Cry, The Beloved Country, by Alan Paton, contains numerous comparisons between two different yet similar locations in South Africa. Each comparison further shows the deviation between the thoughts and traditions of old and new. The main conflicts in the novel revolve around the differences of two locations, Ndotsheni and Johannesburg, which represent the thoughts of the old and traditional ways, with the contradicting lifestyle and thoughts of the modern and progressive age. These thoughts are what make Cry, The Beloved Country such an interesting and profound work of literature.
This can be further understood by analyzing how the two places differ, what each place represents, and how their contrast contributes to the meaning of the work. The small village of Ndotsheni vastly contrasts the large and sprawling metropolis of Johannesburg. Ndotsheni is a small village that lies in the South African province of Natal. In the beginning of the book Alan Paton writes, “Where you stand the grass is rich and matted, you cannot see the soil. But the rich green hills break down. They fall to the valley below, and falling, change their nature.
For they grow red and bare; they cannot hold the rain and mist, and the streams are dry in the kloofs. ” (page 33) This explains how the area around the village of Ndotsheni appears. It is explained later that the valleys are barren from over grazing of cattle and the lack of correct farming methods used in the area has caused the deterioration of the land around Ndotsheni and, as explained elsewhere in the book, in other similar locations throughout South Africa. In contrast, Johannesburg is a large bustling city, where the able bodied of the villages often venture to seek out work or a better life.
The journey to the bustling city is one that is often thought of as dangerous and scary to those who remain back home. Mrs. Kumalo says, ‘When people go to Johannesburg, they do not come back. ” (page 38) This common thought is shared amongst many who remain in Ndotsheni, it is fed by the lack of communication between loved ones who leave for the big city. Often a loved one leaves and then shortly after another leaves to go and find the one who left before, but all too often nothing is heard from either who ventured away from their home.
When these people arrive in Johannesburg, the world they face is very different and uncertain from the one they left. They are faced with a completely new society, one often more desperate than the one they left behind. A majority of the men who leave the villages come to Johannesburg to work in the gold mines, hoping to make a living crawling through the tunnels looking for gold they cannot keep. The horrible conditions in mining camps and in the crowded city leave an open door for crime to spread and flourish amongst them.
This crime causes the native residents of Johannesburg to fear the newcomers who arrive hoping to make a living. However, from this fear it motivates some to do good, like send aid and assistance back to the far away villages in hopes that the people will remain there and the overcrowding of the cities will cease. However, in the timeframe of the book, these are but hopes and the actual processes of making these hopes a reality is few and far between. Each of these locations represents two very different trains of thought. The village of Ndotsheni represents the traditional values of the native peoples.
This is seen in the use of the chief as the main leadership in their form of government along with the use of their native languages. It is also prevalent that the people of the smaller villages hold to their religion alot stronger than some of those who have moved to the larger cities. other noticeable customs have also led to the area’s agricultural downfall. For example the practice of counting your wealth in cattle has caused severe overgrazing of the valleys which has devastated the quality of the farmland. This devastation has caused many of the residents to pack up and move to the larger ities like Johannesburg. In Johannesburg, the forward thinking notion tends to take over along with the loss of some of the more conservative values of the villages. There are numerous forward thinkers looking for ways to improve the lives of many while yet there are those who chose to remain in the olden more traditional thoughts. For example, Arthur Jarvis is one of these forward thinkers. He looks for ways to improve the lives of the less fortunate which are often times the natives who have come to work in the mines and have fallen into a life of crime to try and survive.
Another example is John Kumalo. John is one of the most powerful black advocates for civil rights for native South Africans. These forward thinkers are namely contested by their opponents like the mine owners and other wealthy business owners who rely on the cheap labor available from the native population. From this Contrast of motive and belief stems the main thought this book advocates, the recognition of civil rights for native South Africans. The novel opens up and dives into the thoughts behind both sides of the argument.
On the side of pro civil rights it shows the conditions that a lot of the natives come from and the often worse conditions they move to. In their home villages the crops are failing due to poor land maintenance so they leave home to find work elsewhere in cities like Johannesburg. Upon their arrival in Johannesburg they are met with work that is not only dangerous but doesn’t pay very well. Most of the natives work in the mines and live in the crowded mining camps which have been set up to house the incoming workers. The conditions of these camps are likely awful, as they are merely a means to house a mass of manual laborers.
However on the side of those against civil rights, they view the oncoming workers as a detriment to their society. They consider them inferior not only due to their race but due to other factors such as education and language. The fear and concern that stems from these inferiorities feeds the thought that the natives should be treated as subhuman and do not deserve the rights of the upper class or simply the white population of South Africa. The author, Alan Paton, sides with those who are pro civil rights. This is evident in the character of James Jarvis.
James is introduced in the book as the father of Arthur, who was murdered by Absalom, and also as a conservative who tends to align with those against the civil rights of the natives. However as he learns more of his son and the work he did his thoughts begin to shift to the pro civil rights side of the fence. This shift is clearly shown in with his improved relations with the village of Ndotsheni which his farm overlooks. It is also through the work of James that the agricultural inspectors arrive in Ndotsheni to begin work on the dam and to educate the villagers with better farming techniques.
The character of James very likely best describes the main intention of the novel, which is to bring the reader’s attention to the problems in South Africa at that time and hopefully open their eyes to the other side of the story and hopefully move them to action of the issue. Cry, The Beloved Country contains numerous references and examples to the issues that affected South Africa in the late 1940’s and on even further into the future and very likely into the present day.
Alan Paton did an exceptional job of bringing these issues to light in Cry, The Beloved Country. Through his use of the two contrasting communities of Ndotsheni and Johannesburg he is able to show in a very clear light the plight that engulfed South Africa at the time. Through the differences of the two places, what each represented, and in the ways their contrast contributed to the meaning of the work, Alan Paton was able to craft an exceptional work of literature that put in simple light and simple terms the message he was trying to convey to his audience.