Cry, the Beloved Country
How we cite our quotes:
— Perhaps you might be hungry, small one.
— Not very hungry, umfundisi.
— Perhaps a little hungry.
— Yes, a little hungry, umfundisi.
— Go to the mother then. Perhaps she has some food.
— I thank you, umfundisi. (1.2.8-13)
Let's say that you were talking to a priest in English. Would you address this person as "Reverend" at the end of every sentence? Probably not. But in the dialogue that takes place in Zulu in this novel, it's very common for Paton to repeat terms like umfundisi or umnumzana regularly, at the end of nearly every sentence, even though the rest of the dialogue in English.
This might be a way of showing differences in manners between Zulu and English speakers. It might also be a way for Paton to remind us that the characters may seem like they are speaking English, but they aren't. But the effect of this repetition of words like umfundisi is to make a lot of the Zulu conversations sound like formal songs with a regular refrain. It's a small thing, but Paton's sing-songy use of these terms can make the dialogue of Cry, the Beloved Country seem less natural and everyday.
[Kumalo] went out of the door, and she watched him through the little window, walking slowly to the door of the church. Then she sat down at his table, and put her head on it, and was silent, with the patient suffering of black women, with the suffering of oxen, with the suffering of any that are mute. (1.2.84)
We can think of two ways to look at this passage, where the narrator claims that Kumalo's wife's suffering is like the "suffering of oxen" because she is "mute." Either the narrator is saying that Kumalo's wife cannot speak her suffering, that she does not know how to express her sorrow because it is so deep.
Or it could mean that Kumalo's wife is not allowed to speak her suffering in some deep way, that there are social obstacles preventing black South African women like her from expressing their true feelings. After all, we get the sense from Cry, the Beloved Country that this is a deeply patriarchal world ("patriarchal" means controlled by men). In fact, we don't hear much from any of the women in the novel, black or white.
But Paton does specifically emphasize that he is talking about the muteness of black women here. In this world of both racial and gender prejudice, why might Kumalo's wife be "mute" in her suffering, in a way that the other characters are not? How might this passage be showing some of Paton's own biases?
Kumalo climbed into the carriage for non-Europeans, already full of the humbler people of his race, some with strange assortments of European garments, some with blankets over their strange assortment, some with blankets over the semi-nudity of their primitive dress, though these were all women. Men travelled no longer in primitive dress. (1.3.18)
The world Alan Paton is portraying in Cry, the Beloved Country is so totally segregated that Kumalo doesn't seem to notice that there is anything strange about riding in a separate train car because of the color of his skin. It's as though he's so used to it that it seems natural to him.