Penned by Alan Paton in an emotional fervor, Cry the Beloved Country was the author’s first and most successful novel. It relays the tale of apartheid in South Africa and the search for forgiveness as well as the strength to overcome tragedy to move forward with life in a positive way. In this book, Paton portrays the trials and tribulations of Reverend Stephen Kumalo and James Jarvis, who are two men that hail from opposing backgrounds. While both characters are obviously very different they are joined together by tragic circumstances when Kumalo’s son Absalom murders James’ son Arthur in a robbery attempt gone awry. Both men represent the opposing sides in the South African situation, but by the conclusion of the novel, they each come to their own way of contending with the ramifications the injustice of their world has cast upon them.
A pastor in his village of Ndotsheni and an imminently respected member of his community, Stephen Kumalo has imparted his strict moral guidelines to his son Absalom, but when his son leaves the countryside to try his hand at life in the big city he commits a moral sin. Absalom shoots and kills Arthur Jarvis, a young, white engineer, who dreamed of a better South Africa, during a failed robbery attempt. In his struggle to survive, Absalom rejects the ways his father has taught him, yet still has enough of those values instilled within him to admit his guilt to his father. He is then sentenced to death for his crime.
Absalom, however, is the not the only cross Kumalo has to bear. He is viewing the destruction of his way of life in the village. His brother John leaves the church to become a political activist and his sister Gertrude in much the same fashion as Absalom, turns to a life of prostitution as well as drugs to survive once she attempts to find a life in the big city. The paths his family has chosen to follow along with injustices committed by whites against blacks in South Africa, sears Kumalo’s very soul. In his journey from the village to Johannesburg in search of Absalom, Kumalo realizes the situation not only in his nation but how it has affected his family. He tells his friend upon returning home the he has learned how to love and forgive people rather than remain bitter or angry over what he has lost.
James Jarvis is a well-to-do white landowner that like Kumalo, resides outside the city limits of the Johannesburg. Like Kumalo he also has but one son, that he also loses through Absalom’s hand and like his colleague, he also has avoided the social, political and emotional turmoil apartheid is causing in his native land. Jarvis as well as Kumalo, truly do not know how the boys they raised have been contending with the modern world. Both men only come to know their sons by losing them and that is when they realize the world around them is falling apart.
For example, Jarvis was ignorant of his son Arthur’s mission to improve the situation in South Africa and could not understand what was so dangerous about Johannesburg. He only begins to understand the depth of his son’s fervor when he sees the pictures of Lincoln and Jesus on his son’s walls and by reading his mission statement. That is when he discovered his son was noble, just and an exceptional young man that sought justice as well as equality for all.
This jarred Jarvis into reality and sent him on a journey similar to Kumalo’s by assimilating in addition to processing these awful tragedies occur, but people must find a way to move on and improve them.
Naturally Kumalo and Jarvis eventually meet face-to-face. Instead of each man holding animosity towards the other for obvious reasons, Jarvis extends himself. He sends a lump payment to the African Boys club, pays for milk for the rural black youth and even constructs a church in Nbotsheni. Through his son’s example, Jarvis seeks to aid his poor, subjugated black brethren and in turn right some of the injustices that have been brought against them. This is something he never would have imagined prior to Arthur’s death.
In Paton’s novel Cry, the Beloved Country, the two main characters Kumalo and Jarvis could not have been more different in the beginning of the novel except they both had one son and enjoyed insulation from the ills of the world around them. As each man progresses through their journey in the book, they also both lose their sons based on the circumstances of apartheid in their country. Rather than remain bitter, angry or crestfallen, both men embrace their sadness, learn about themselves, their nation and injustice, but they both also learn how to be compassionate as well as how to forgive. Instead of allowing the loss of their sons and the reasons why that loss happened to come about, the come together to attempt to improve the apartheid scenario in their country. In turn they help other people and that is how they heal themselves to go on. Therefore, two men who were so vastly different, actually become the same after horrific circumstances bring them together.