Cry, the Beloved Country
by Alan Paton
Cry, the Beloved Country Theme of Race
It's hard to imagine a book published in South Africa in 1948—the first official year of apartheid—that wouldn't deal with questions of race; race would have been everywhere in South African society and politics at that time. Indeed, Cry, the Beloved Country is all about race, from Arthur Jarvis's liberal essays on preventing crime in the black community to John Kumalo's firebrand speeches about equal pay for black workers. But Alan Paton's name has become so totally associated with the anti-apartheid movement that it's hard to remember that he actually wrote this book in 1946, two years before the official establishment of apartheid. And in many ways, even though it was published right at the start of apartheid, his book stands as a clear-sighted prediction of the fear and hatred that apartheid would bring.
Questions About Race
- Alan Paton often uses very general categories such as "the white man" to talk about race. But he also makes references to the Afrikaners and the English and to the Zulu and the Xosa—different, smaller groups within larger racial categories like "white" and "black." How does Paton show differences within black communities and white communities?
- Beyond race, how does Cry, the Beloved Country portray cultural differences between black characters like Kumalo and white characters like Jarvis?
- How do race and gender combine in this book? Does Paton portray white women and black women in the same manner?
Chew on This
The narrator's ability to adopt the perspectives of both black characters like Kumalo and Msimangu and white characters like Jarvis shows that the novel itself has an integrated worldview. This combination of points of view becomes one more model of the kind of shared sympathy between people of different races that Paton would like to see in real-world South Africa.
Cry, the Beloved Country's focus on charitable organizations and the law as institutions to promote social change in South Africa allows Paton to criticize more one-sided, grass-roots revolutionary movements arising from within the black community itself.