Cry, the Beloved Country
by Alan Paton
Cry, the Beloved Country Theme of Politics
Cry, the Beloved Country doesn't just show us the problems that it sees with 1940s South Africa. It also gives several models for possible ways forward to bridge the divide between black and white populations in the country.
Both Arthur Jarvis and Msimangu talk about the broken tribe (check out our section in "Symbols, Imagery, Allegory" for more on this). To rebuild the tribe—or in other words, to give new economic and educational opportunities to South Africa's oppressed black majorities—Msimangu preaches at a center for black African blind people at Ezenzeleni. This center, which has been funded by white charitable organizations, empowers blind people to earn money in exchange for their hard work weaving baskets.
Similarly, Jarvis funds an agricultural instructor to go to Ndotsheni and train the people there to farm more productively. Jarvis also gives John Harrison a thousand pounds to start a political reform group called the Arthur Jarvis Club in Johannesburg. Paton's vision of money from liberal-minded white people going to organizations run by both black and white people to help develop economic and educational advocacy for black South Africans echoes not only his real-life political activity, but also shows the kinds of policies that he wants to see in place to change the racial inequality of the country.
Questions About Politics
- What specific policies does Cry, the Beloved Country offer for possible future reforms of South Africa's racial divisions?
- Which characters in this novel are most explicitly interested in politics? How do politics and social activism or commitment to social reform appear to differ in this book?
- How do politics overlap with race in this novel? Do many of the black characters share politics with the white characters? If so, how? If not, why not?
Chew on This
By giving Msimangu and Arthur Jarvis similar ideas about the "broken tribe" (for Msimangu, see 1.5.58; for Arthur, see 2.20.14-15), Cry, the Beloved Country suggests that liberal politics can and should cross racial boundaries in South Africa.
John Kumalo's involvement in politics is both corrupt and selfish, while Msimangu's activism is humble and self-sacrificing. This distinction suggests that Cry, the Beloved Country is critical of professional politics while emphasizing private social activism and community organization instead.