The Biblical Message of Cry, the Beloved Country
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Alan Paton's book, "Cry, the Beloved Country", is about agitation and turmoil of both whites and blacks over the white segregation policy called apartheid. The book describes how understanding between whites and blacks can end mutual fear and aggression, and bring reform and hope to a small community of Ndotcheni as well as to South Africa as a whole. The language of the book reflects the Bible; furthermore, several characters and episodes are reminiscent of stories from the New Testament and teachings of Christ. Thus, Alan Paton, as a reformer and the author of "Cry, the Beloved Country", gives the people of South Africa a new, modern Bible, where he, like Christ, teaches to "love thy brother as yourself" in order to help whites and blacks overcome the fear and misunderstanding of each other.
The language of the book from the very beginning reveals its biblical nature. "The great valley of Umzimkulu is still in darkness, but the light will come there. Ndotcheni is still in darkness, but the light will come there also." The style includes symbols such as light and darkness, short clauses connected by "and" or "but", and repetition. This style is used to represent speech or thoughts "translated" from Zulu.
Jesus Christ is symbolized by the figure of Arthur Jarvis. He is a white reformer who fights for rights of blacks. Like Christ, he is very altruistic and wants to pursue his aims at all costs. His friend, Harrison, says: "Here [Arthur Jarvis] was, day to day, on a kind of mission." (173) Arthur Jarvis and his wife Mary "agree that it's more important to speak the truth than to make money." (172) Arthur Jarvis is killed in his house by Absalom, a black youth who gets entangled in crime. Absalom only intends to rob Arthur Jarvis, and the homicide is unintentional. Absalom thinks that Arthur Jarvis is out and comes into the house with two friends. However, when Arthur Jarvis "heard a noise, and came down to investigate" (186). Startled and afraid, Absalom fires blindly. Absalom later says in court: "Then a white man came into the passage... I was frightened. I fired the revolver." (194) Absalom's blind fear is symbolic of the fear, blindness, and misunderstanding between whites and blacks; these are the reasons of racial hatred.
In his room, there are pictures "of Christ crucified and Abraham Lincoln" (176), the two men who fought for human love and compassion and were killed because of their beliefs. Arthur Jarvis can be identified with Jesus Christ. Jesus taught "love thy neighbor as thyself". Roman priests didn't understand him, but they felt his power and were afraid of him. Even though Christ taught compassion, they claimed he would incite a riot and crucified him. Like Christ, Arthur Jarvis teaches compassion and love between neighbors - whites and blacks, separated by the policy of apartheid.
The crucifixion of Jesus Christ leads to redemption, spiritual growth of many people and progress; likewise, the death of Arthur Jarvis brings reform and hope. Ironically, the tragedy brings together Stephen Kumalo, the father of a black murderer and Jarvis, the father of Arthur Jarvis, the white victim.
High Place where Jarvis lives is symbolic of an elevated position of many whites. Before his son's death, Jarvis is on the hilltop, thinking in a distant, uninvolved way about the problems between whites and blacks, seeing just the white point of view.
"Indeed they talked about [the erosion of land] often, for when they visited one another and sat on the long cool verandahs drinking their tea, they must needs look out over the barren valleys and the bare hills that were stretched below them. Some of their labor was drawn from Ndotcheni, and they knew how year by year there was less food grown in these reserves." (162)
Jarvis is not a bad person but is ignorant about the lives of blacks and the real issues that take place.
After the death of his son Jarvis learns to view blacks as real people. Jarvis reads his son's papers and suddenly becomes concerned with the ideas expressed by his son and by Abraham Lincoln. "Jarvis sat, deeply moved [after reading Arthur's last paper.] ... [Then Jarvis] read [the Second Inaugural Address of Abraham Lincoln], and felt with a sudden lifting of the spirit that here was a secret unfolding, a track picked up again." (188) Later on, when Kumalo and Jarvis meet, Kumalo stumbles and almost faints because of the shame and guilt he feels. Jarvis doesn't yet know Kumalo is the father of the criminal, and doesn't understand Kumalo's anxiety. However, Jarvis doesn't dismiss him as a "dirty old parson" (174) like before. Earlier Jarvis might barely have noticed expressions on the face of a Zulu, but now he has changed enough to recognize that this man does not mean to be rude. "Jarvis knew this was not rudeness, for the old man was humble and well-mannered." (211) As a result of reading his son's writings, Jarvis learns about the real problems of South Africa. Most of the whites don't view blacks as real people and are unaware the problems blacks have to face. Therefore it is easy for whites to oppress blacks.
In the end of the book, Jarvis plays the role of an angel coming down from above. When Jarvis returns to his "High Place," he doesn't view the problems of the black community in Ndotcheni as being below him as earlier, but plays an active role in reform. He hires an agricultural instructor to teach new methods of farming and sends milk daily to the sick children. Because of one man's understanding and change of heart, many lives are saved, and finally, there is a ray of hope, thanks to Jarvis, "an angel of God" (234).
Another character reminiscent of the Bible is Absalom, the son of the main character Stephen Kumalo, an African priest. The biblical Absalom is a favorite son of King David. Absalom goes against his father and joins his father's enemies. However, the rebellion is suppressed and Absalom is killed. Instead of rejoicing, David bitterly weeps for his son. Absalom in "Cry, the Beloved Country" causes grief to Stephen Kumalo by disappearing into Johannesburg. Moreover, when Stephen Kumalo goes to look for him, the old priest is devastated to find out that his son has killed a man. When Absalom is hanged, Stephen Kumalo weeps. Like David who cries out, "O Absalom, my son, my son!" Kumalo too cries, "My son, my son, my son!" By naming Kumalo's son "Absalom", the author emphasizes the importance of the break of the father and son.
Gertrude, the sister of Stephen Kumalo, can be identified with a Samaritan woman in New Testament. Priest Msimangu describes Gertrude to Kumalo. "It would be better to say ... that she had many husbands." (57) That means she is a prostitute. Likewise, Christ says to the Samaritan woman that she had many husbands, but none of them was her husband for real. When the reader notices the connection to the prostitute in the Bible, we are able to view her differently, and forgive her like Jesus Christ forgave the sins of the Samaritan woman.
Kumalo can be seen as a representation of Moses. Moses takes his people on a journey. When they arrive to their destination, they have obtained a new set of laws and beliefs. Kumalo's journey to Johannesburg is filled with fear. However, when he returns to his home in Ndotcheni, he has acquired a new understanding of racial problems and a capability to help his people. Even though he looses a son, a sister, and a brother, he has a new daughter-in-law, a nephew, and a grandson about to be born. The younger generation emphasizes a new beginning, a new way of life for Kumalo. By making a friendship with Jarvis, Kumalo also changes the way of life in Ndotcheni. Even though the end of the journey is filled with sorrow, it is a start anew. Father Vincent remarks to Kumalo, "My friend, your fear has turned to sorrow. But sorrow is better than fear. ... Fear is a journey, a terrible journey, but sorrow is at least an arriving." (140) By identifying Kumalo with Moses, the author stresses the importance of the concepts of journey and fear throughout the book.
The journey of Kumalo to Johannesburg can also be seen as a loss of innocence. Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, and after that they never lived the simple naked life of the Paradise, the garden East of Eden. When Kumalo travels to Johannesburg, he has to deal with problems he never faced in the simple agrarian community of Ndotcheni. He sees ugliness of the life there: "They walked down Lily street, and turned off into Hyacinth Street, for the names there are very beautiful." (59) Also, he experiences compassion and help of generous and benevolent people such as Msimangu. When Msimangu gives Kumalo a post office book that is worth thirty pounds, "Kumalo put his hands with the book on the top of the gate, and he put his head on his hands, and wept bitterly." (248) Just like Adam and Eve were never able to return to primeval innocence of paradise, likewise Kumalo is permanently changed by his journey to Johannesburg. For this reason the bishop tells him, "Mr. Kumalo, you should go away from Ndotcheni." (294) Because of the knowledge and understanding he acquires in Johannesburg, Kumalo cannot go back to his old way of life.
In "Cry, the Beloved Country" Alan Paton teaches the attitude similar to Christ's philosophy. Christ leads people to love and compassion, both to friends and enemies. Alan Paton wrote the book with such strong biblical references to appeal to the people to follow biblical beliefs. Alan Paton calls for an end to racial injustice, misunderstanding and alienation of black and whites.
"Cry, the Beloved Country" examines racial hatred and turmoil from a very different perspective than most people of Paton's time were used to. Because the setting and issues of this book are so removed from most readers' experiences, readers can form opinions and view this book without bias, because most people don't encounter issues such as life in an African village, African landscape and draught, Zulu language, etc. People can look at issues discussed in this book as if from a distance. This makes the book universal. Paton further stresses the universality of this book by making a strong comparison with the Bible, which most people in the world are familiar with. Since the audience of the book is people from different cultures and countries, "Cry, the Beloved Country" can make people look from different perspectives at issues such as racial discrimination. Alan Paton wrote this book in order to stop racism and other kinds of prejudice throughout the world.
Paton, Alan. Cry, the Beloved Country. New York: Macmillan, 1987