Alan Paton - Cry, the beloved country

Alan Paton: "Cry, the beloved country"


Alan Paton was born in January 1st, 1903, in Pietermaritzburg, Natal (South Africa). In 1935 Paton gave up teaching for the Diepkloof Reformatory for delinquents near Johannesburg. He published his novel "Cry, the Beloved Country" in 1948, when he left Diepkloof. From 1953, the year he wrote "Too Late the Phalarope", to 1968 Paton was the national president of the Liberal Party of South Africa.


Stephen Kumalo a priest                           Theophilus Msimangu. a priest

John Kumalo.. his brother                      Arthur Jarvis. white city-engineer

Gertrude Kumalo..                                       their sister James Jarvis.. Arthur's father

Absolom Kumalo. Stephen's son


Stephen Kumalo receives a letter from Johannesburg. He does not think that the letter is from his brother John or from his son Absolom, but from his sister Gertrude. She went there to search for her husband. The letter concerns her but it is from a Brother in Christ, Theophilus Msimangu. He wants Stephen Kumalo to come to Johannesburg because his sister is sick and she is living with her son at a woman who is a prostitute and makes liquor. Stephen takes the money they have saved for their son's college and for a new stove. So Stephen Kumalo decides to take her home but first he wants to visit his son. He gets to know from his brother that their sons are best friends and live together. The address he got from his brother is an old one because the boys often change houses. The owner of the last one tells him that the magistrate sent him to the reformatory. There he is told that his son left because he behaved well, was so young and his girlfriend was pregnant. Although he gets the new address he does not meet his son because he is out with his cousin, John Kumalo's son. The next day Stephen Kumalo gets the message that Absolom and two other boys, one of them his nephew, were caught by the police . They are accused of murdering the well known city-engineer Arthur Jarvis, who was a fighter for justice of the black population. Absolom tells his father that it was an accident because they did not want to kill anybody. They wanted to ransack a house and Arthur Javis, who was awakened by the noise, surprised them. In fear Absolom shot the man down and he ran away with his two friends. A white Brother in Christ gets a lawyer for Stephen Kumalo's son because they assume that the other two boys will deny to have been with him that night. They are of the right opinion. Absolom is sentenced to death and the others get free. Before Stephen Kumalo goes home with his sister Gertrude and his son's girlfriend, the young couple marries because of the child. Back in Ndotsheni, his home-village, without his sister because she has disappeared, but with her child and his daughter in-law, Stephen cares for James Jarvis, Arthur Jarvis' father. He is the owner of a grand ranch in Ndotsheni. And his wife died of a broken heart just a short time ago so Stephen Kumalo cares for him. Later James Jarvis decides to live at his daughter in-law's in Johannesburg and Stephen gets the last letter from his son before his execution.


Narrative Art

The novel consists of three books, it is written in the 3rd person singular. Alan Paton's language is old, he uses "shall" for the 1st person singular and plural in the future tense not "will". He does not write in a difficult language. Sometimes he uses Afrikaans words (e.g.: umfundisi for priest).


This novel shows the living conditions in South Africa in the 1950's. The black population is a second class society. In the time of the story, there is the beginning of a change. White people like Arthur Jarvis are fighting for equality and black people are striking. Blacks and Whites are beginning to work together for the abolition of the Apartheid policy.

This is most important passage which describes very well how the South Africans are thinking about their system of classes (it is a notice from Arthur Jarvis):

"was permissible. What we did when we came to South Africa was permissible. It was permissible to develop our great resources with the aid of what labour we could find. It was permissible to use unskilled men for unskilled work. But it is not permissible to keep men unskilled for the sake of unskilled work.

It was permissible when we discovered gold to bring labour to the mines. It was permissible to build compounds and to keep women and children away from the towns. But in the light of what we know now, it is no longer permissible. It is not longer permissible for us to go on destroying family life when we know that we are destroying it.

It is not permissible to develop any resources if they can be developed only by a policy of keeping labour poor. It is not permissible to add to one's possessions if this can only be done at the cost of other men.

It was permissible to leave native education to those who wanted to develop it. It was permissible to doubt its benefits. But it is no longer permissible in the light of what we know. There is now a large native population in the towns. Society must educate its children so that they grow up to obey the society's laws, and realize the aims and purposes of the society. There is no other way that it can be done.

It was permissible to allow the destruction of a tribal system that prevented the growth of the country. But it is not permissible to watch its destruction, and to replace it by nothing, so that a whole people goes rotten, physically and morally.

The old tribal system was, for all its violence and superstition, a moral system. Our natives to-day produce criminals, not because it is their nature to do so, but because their simple system of order and tradition has been destroyed. It was destroyed by our own civilization. Our civilization has therefore an unavoidable duty to set up another system of order and tradition. It is time" (Paton, Alan: Cry, the beloved country, Harlow 1986, pp. 71).

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