Cry, the Beloved Country
Cry, the Beloved Country spends a lot of time beautifully describing the valley of the Umzimkulu River, where Kumalo and his family originally come from. A lot of the action of the book is also focused on renewing this home territory so that future generations of Zulus can continue to live away from the morally corrupt cities. Kumalo draws comfort from thinking about his home while he struggles in Johannesburg, and it is a positive sign for the future that his grandson and his baby nephew are both going to be raised in Ndotsheni rather than in Johannesburg.
But while the novel's liberal emphasis on renewing the land seems really positive in Cry, the Beloved Country, the idea of a non-urban, largely rural homeland for Zulus and other tribal groups unfortunately echoes later, ugly, bad-faith policies by the apartheid government in South Africa. In the 1970s, the apartheid government forced black Africans to leave the nation's cities and return to designated "homelands" (called "bantustans") while at the same time depriving them of their rightful South African citizenship (source). Paton fought such racist policies from 1948 (when the Afrikaner National Party first declared apartheid as its official policy for the government of South Africa) to his death in 1988. But his sentimental attitudes towards the home bears some uncomfortable resemblance to later, more prejudiced political policies.
Questions About The Home
- We see a number of different homes in this book: Arthur Jarvis's house (with the bloodstain in the kitchen), Gertrude's house in a dangerous section of Johannesburg, John Kumalo's profitable store, Jarvis's farm at High Place, and Kumalo's house and church in Ndotsheni. What do these homes tell us about the characters they belong to? How does the home become another tool of characterization in this book?
- How does Cry, the Beloved Country tie together ideas of home with larger projects of social reform? Why is the home such an important part of the characters' plans for improving the conditions of life for black South Africans?
- Where is Msimangu's home? Or Mr. Letsitsi's? How do these characters relate to the concept of home differently than Kumalo or the Jarvises?
Chew on This
Where individual characters like Kumalo have a much narrower definition of home tied to a specific village, more ambitious social reformers like Msimangu and Mr. Letsitsi think of all of South Africa as the home that they wish to renew and protect.
According to the home-oriented logic of Cry, the Beloved Country, Gertrude's discomfort with Mrs. Lithebe's house provides evidence of her deep immorality long before she decides to run away and abandon her son with Kumalo.