Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton

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“Africa” is not even an African word. There is no certainty as to where it originated from but it could be connected with the Latin word aprica, meaning “sunny,” or the Greek word aphrike, meaning “not cold.” It seems more likely that it came from the Greek word; “aphrike” is the combination of “phrike” (cold and horror) with an “a” placed in front to give it the opposite meaning. Therefore, it means a land free of cold and horror. It’s such an ironic name for a country where people are living their lives with hunger and fear. The conditions in South Africa during mid-1900 were even worse than they are today. Alan Paton addresses these issues in his novel, Cry, the Beloved Country, published in 1948. Paton uses two contrasting places to present his view of South Africa while suggesting solutions. The desolate village of Ndotsheni and the chaotic city of Johannesburg appear to be dissimilar at first glance, but when one analyzes them, one finds that both places hold stark similarities. The recurring themes include the misuse of the land, the tension between urban and rural societies, and the integration of fear and racism in their lives.

Ndotsheni is not taken care of and land is rotting and not covered with grass. Cows are overgrazing and the maize does not even grow to the height of a man. The natives were forced to live on what little land the whites gave back. The land could not support the people and the people did not know how to support the land, so people left the villages to look to start new lives in the cities. It is rumored that when one goes to Johannesburg, s/he is never heard from again. The examples of Absalom, Gertrude, and John show that people go astray in the city with no one to turn to. Johannes...

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...tes fail to address the causes of these crimes and instead of assisting the natives, they turn toward stricter segregation and push them even farther away. They also fear a native miners’ strike because that would collapse their whole economy. Rather than reforming, the whites let greed devour them and they continue to exert their power over the natives by ignoring their reasonable pleas. Although Ndotsheni is completely segregated and one could live there his/her whole life without interacting with someone of another race, there is also fear. There is fear for the land that is dying and the children that are dying. They fear for the people who left the village for the black hole of Johannesburg. Paton’s message is that all of these problems are generated by fear and to drive out that fear, whites and natives must see past their differences and join hands.
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