Cry, the Beloved Country
The Home Quotes Page 1
How we cite our quotes:
The grass is rich and matted, you cannot see the soil. It holds the rain and the mist, and they seep into the ground, feeding the streams in every kloof. It is well-tended, and not too many cattle feed upon it; not too many fires burn it, laying bare the soil. Stand unshod upon it, for the ground is holy, being even as it came from the Creator. Keep it, guard it, care for it, for it keeps men, guards men, cares for men. Destroy it and man is destroyed. (1.1.2)
This introductory passage describing the rich valley of the Umzimkulu River makes it sound like the Garden of Eden: the ground is "holy" as it "keeps men, guards men, cares for men." This valley is the home for Kumalo's people, and when Kumalo thinks of this place, with its familiar hills and valleys, it provides comfort for him.
In his note on the 1987 edition of Cry, the Beloved Country, Alan Paton quotes from another book of his, For You Departed, to reflect back on the process of writing Cry, the Beloved Country. He chooses this quote because it expresses his longing "for the land that cannot be again, of hills and grass and bracken, the land where you were born" (source). And indeed, we feel like we see that desire for the land that "cannot be again" in this opening chapter, when the narrator describes the lushness of the Umzimkulu valley before it grew permanently damaged by the harsh demands of the modern South Africa.
The great red hills stand desolate, and the earth has torn away like flesh. The lightning flashes over them, the clouds pour down upon them, the dead streams come to life, full of the red blood of the earth. Down in the valleys women scratch the soil that is left, and the maize hardly reaches the height of a man. They are valleys of old men and old women, of mothers and children. The men are away, the young men and the girls are away. The soil cannot keep them any more. (1.1.4)
Here, we have this almost apocalyptic vision of the Umzimkulu valley now, with its barren hills and bloody streams. Where the valley used to be able to protect and guard its people, now "the soil cannot keep [the men and young people] any more." In our section on "Symbols, Imagery, Allegory," we talk about "The Tribe" as this system of social organization that has been permanently broken by white colonization. Here, we see that the land that used to support these tribes has also been damaged, possibly forever. For groups of people that once relied on farming to support themselves, of course this destruction of farmland would totally change their way of life.
They washed their hands in a modern place, with a white basin, and water cold and hot, and towels worn but very white, and a modern lavatory too. When you were finished, you pressed a little rod, and the water rushed in as though something was broken. It would have frightened you if you had not heard of such things before. (1.5.2)
At the Johannesburg Mission House, Kumalo uses a bathroom with plumbing to wash up. The narrator's deliberate choice to talk about this plumbing as though it is something foreign to the reader makes the everyday, ordinary technology of a faucet—where you "press a little rod" and water comes rushing in—seem suddenly unfamiliar and weird. Paton is reminding us that a lot of things that the reading audience might take for granted would be unfamiliar to Kumalo and his family.