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Monday, June 30, 2008

black versus white: a critique of alan paton’s cry, the beloved country

A letter arrives, summoning Stephen Kumalo to see his sister Gertrude in Johannesburg. Upon his descent, the black pastor eventually finds out that his sister has resorted his prostitution for a profession and that his son Absolom is imprisoned for killing a white man. These two cases are a revelation of what is currently happening in South Africa’s urbane society: corruptible natives, being caught up by the socially unjust white man’s system, are led to do criminal acts. His hope of bringing his family home is shattered because his son is sentenced for execution by hanging. The murdered engineer’s father, although pleased with the court’s decision, gets inspired by his son’s essays and eventually helps transform his son’s killer’s impoverished Ndotsheni.
Alan Paton’s Cry, the Beloved Country is a powerful novel that resonates the situation of the Spanish Colonial Philippines. This novel manifests the sufferings of the natives who were treated unequally for the colonists’ fear of producing educated and rebellious inferiors. These sufferings continuously brought about by the white men are justified because to them, it is better to fear the natives’ attacks than fear the unknown.
All of the characters are protagonists in that they are doing their best to reform themselves. For example, although Absolom has been a changed man, he decides to return to robbery because he is being coerced by the situation he is into. Criminals like him turn to murdering white men in order to get even with those who instituted by the racist system. John Kumalo, meanwhile, holds on to corruptive power in order to advanced the natives’ welfare. In the long run, these hostilities are but natives’ challenges that aim to restructure a divided society.
The antagonist in the novel is the white man’s system that promotes inequality and social discrimination. With accordance to the system, the colonists get wealthier whereas the colonized become increasingly penniless. Natives are given unfair access to transportation, amenities, employment, to name a few. This antagonism by the established white man’s system causes the conflict involving the discriminated natives; they have resorted to evil ways in order to survive and at the same time, avenge their sufferings under the abusive colonists.
Among the novel’s characters, the pregnant wife of Absolom is the least developed because of the insufficient details about the reasons for her actuation. To cite an example: at age 16, she has had Absalom for a third husband. Is it her youth’s folly that pushed her into marrying at such a tender age or her dependence to men? Further scenes in which she is part of do not help establish this young girl’s character—the author does not lead us into understanding her purpose in life, in which case readers could have related more to her.
Cry, the Beloved Country is an inspirational story because here is a man of faith whose very beliefs are being shaken by the string of miseries that confronts him. Kumalo’s life is a journey of enlightenment because he is able to turn his fear, sorrow, and anxiety into a new spring of hope. In a land where natives like Kumalo are extremely oppressed, the blacks challenge the system founded by the whites, the race who breaks them apart. Here is a novel that makes use of a country as a living character in order to heighten the drama which Cry… wishes to express.
Alan Paton’s work provides encouragement to cry out one’s restrained feelings, with a voice that used to be silenced. It offers a proper roadmap for people struggling with today’s complexities. This lyrical composition is an effective instrument to awaken one’s love for his country, and appreciate and judge one’s culture rightly. Generations of whatever color should read it.

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