Cry, the Beloved Country
by Alan Paton
Analysis: Narrator Point of View
Who is the narrator, can she or he read minds, and, more importantly, can we trust her or him?
Third-Person Omniscient Narrator
The narrator of Cry, the Beloved Country often focuses on Stephen Kumalo, but it also feels free to weave in and out of the thoughts of the other characters. In fact, this narrator is unusually flexible and free-floating.
For example, the narrator sometimes takes a bird's-eye view of whole stretches of land, as in the opening chapters of Books 1 and 2 when we fly over the valley of Umzimulu. But then it occasionally sticks so closely to interesting conversations between people that it doesn't even bother to give us the speakers' names or contexts, as in chapters 9, 12, and 23. And the narrator sometimes chooses to limit its own perspective, as in chapter 25. There, the narrator looks at Stephen Kumalo from James Jarvis's point of view as though Kumalo is a total stranger, a "native parson" (2.25.3) (a parson is a priest) whom Jarvis has never met before, rather than the central character whose thoughts we have spent many chapters reading.
The narrator's constant movement in this novel means that we, as readers, can never get too cozy or comfortable with Cry, the Beloved Country. We might spend half of chapter 24 looking over James Jarvis's shoulder at Arthur's manuscripts and letters. But just as we have started to feel really in tune with Jarvis's sorrow and his need to know more about his son's ideas, the narrator will suddenly give us a jolt by showing us the pitying and condescending thoughts of a cop stationed outside the house, who is also looking at Jarvis.
This shifting perspective reminds us not to take anything for granted. We can never grow to used to one point of view in Cry, the Beloved Country because there isn't one point of view. There are many, and they all demand our attention.