Friday, July 24, 2009

Cry, The Beloved Country

            The novel, Cry, The Beloved Country, is set in South Africa in the 1940’s after the English who were in power departed. Alan Paton, a South African, writes this novel about the occurrences of the post-colonial period. It is clear in his book that he agrees with the post-colonial theorist Edward Said. Said, in his essay, Culture and Imperialism, writes that the nation of “Africa [is] politically independent but in many ways [is as] dominated and dependent as [it was] when ruled directly by European powers.” (369) In the novel, the main character, Stephen Kumalo sets out to bring his sister and his son back to his village from Johannesburg. To get to Johannesburg, Kumalo has to take a train. “Kumalo climbed into the carriage for non-Europeans, already full of the humbler people of his race.” (Paton, 43) There was still a separation between the native Africans and the Europeans even though the Europeans were not the rulers any longer. Also the mention of the “humbler people” gives the reader the impression that the Africans were still viewed as inferior to the non-Africans. A sense of dominance by the Europeans was still in place.

 Another instance in which this is seen is when Kumalo asks his brother John to phone the textile factory where Kumalo’s son was last known to be working. John laughs at this request and says, “what for…to ask if Absalom Kumalo is working there…they do not do such things for a black man my brother.” (Paton, 70) The Africans were seen as lower than the white men and did not have the same privileges that the white men had. Even though the Europeans were not in charge, the native Africans did not get the rights they deserved. Edward Said wrote, “ independence was for whites and Europeans; the lesser or subject peoples were to be ruled.” (374) This statement clearly describes the situation occurring in South Africa in the 1940’s.

The white men’s fear of the Africans is apparent in this book. Policemen were at a rally where John is telling the crowd that Africans should get an equal share of the money for the work that they do for the white men. The policemen think to themselves, “what if…the people rise…with thoughts of power and of Africa awakening from sleep.” (Paton, 218) Even though the Africans were the majority they had not awoken from their slave mentality. They had not yet realized that if they united together then they would gain the power to overthrow these “rules” that keep them at a lower level in society. As Paton writes, “[the white men] fear not only the loss of our possessions, but the loss of our superiority and the loss of our whiteness.” (110) The European men were terrified at the prospect that they would lose their dominance over the Africans.

Even though the British rulers physically left the country and no longer claimed South Africa as their own, they left behind a mentality which did not allow South Africa to progress and the natives to form a nation of their own. This point was expressed by Said when he wrote, “[the English] continued to rule…intellectually.” (374) The book, Cry, The Beloved Country, clearly depicts the challenges of a post-colonial society. 


  1. good--one could make a strong comparison between the depiction here (which is pre-apartheid) and Disgrace (which takes place after). I'm also interested how the book (which was written by a white South African) portrays black South Africans--and whether we might find evidence of some of the similar essentializing traps that Achebe felt Conrad succumbed to, just positive (romantic) rather than negative (animalistic). That is, the image of Africa as idealized might, on occasion, share some of the dangers of more obviously negative images of the same place.