Cry, the Beloved Country | Study Guide

Alan Paton

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Cry, the Beloved Country | Book 1, Chapters 3–4 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 3

In the first stage of Stephen's journey to Johannesburg, a small "toy train" transports him to the junction at Carisbrooke. Once again, Paton offers an intriguing, lyrical description of the landscape. As he waits for the next train at Carisbrooke, Stephen ponders the uncertainties of his journey, focusing on health worries and unknown expenses. He also thinks of Johannesburg itself, a fabled metropolis that inspires awe, even fear, because of its size and reputed violence. A man approaches Stephen, and asks him on behalf of Sibeko, a mutual acquaintance, to inquire about the whereabouts of his daughter who left for the city, and hasn't returned. The train arrives, and Stephen climbs into the carriage (car) for non-Europeans. As the journey begins, anxiety once again grips him.

Chapter 4

Stephen's journey leads him through different landscapes, and into an area where Afrikaans names begin to appear. Gradually, the travelers enter the region of the gold mines, the center of South Africa's most profitable industry. Stephen reveals his naïveté when he asks about the mines, and then prematurely identifies the surroundings as Johannesburg.

The city itself proves even more overwhelming than Stephen had imagined, with its tall buildings, numberless railway lines, profusion of stations, and crowds of people. Stephen's head throbs. He is afraid, and he prays to God to watch over him.

Once in the city, Stephen is approached by a young stranger who offers to purchase a bus ticket for him. Naïvely, the priest gives the stranger some money, but he is then cheated when the stranger disappears. At length, Stephen boards the correct bus and arrives at the Mission House, where the Reverend Theophilus Msimangu—who had written the letter about Gertrude—welcomes him.

Analysis

The striking contrast underscored by these chapters is the simplicity of life in rural Natal versus the bustle and confusion of Johannesburg. Two apparently minor incidents are juxtaposed to highlight this contrast. Stephen's willingness in Chapter 3 to do a favor for Sibeko—a friend of the nameless man who had helped carry the priest's luggage—contrasts with the nameless young stranger who offers to help Stephen with the bus ticket, takes his money, and cheats him in Chapter 4.

In the opening paragraph of Chapter 3, Paton continues to employ a device he often uses in the novel—directly addressing the reader with the pronouns "you" and "your." This technique allows the writer to approach his audience more closely in the narrative.

Also in Chapter 3, one of the novel's principal themes emerges in higher relief. This is the theme of fear, evoked at many points and linked to many different characters. In this chapter, fear is presented primarily as Stephen's personal anxiety about the longstanding absence of his close relatives in Johannesburg, especially his only son. Elsewhere in the novel, fear grips blacks and whites alike in many different contexts—social, economic, and legal.

When Stephen boards the train at Carisbrooke, he climbs into the carriage for non-Europeans. Apartheid—an officially institutionalized system of racial segregation and discrimination—did not become the law of the land in South Africa until 1948 (it was abolished in 1991). But long before the 1940s, when Paton's novel is set, segregation had gained ground, under both Dutch and British rule. Paton's novel provides abundant evidence of segregationist practices, and of interracial distrust and fear.

In Chapter 4, it is significant that, directly following the cheating episode, Stephen falls in with another stranger who proves to be completely worthy of his trust. An elderly fellow Anglican helps carry Stephen's bag and guides him to Mission House, where he is personally greeted by Theophilus.

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