Cry the Beloved Country
Alan Paton
Contributed by Cinderella Domino
Symbols are objects or figures that artists use to represent an idea.

Throughout the text, Johannesburg serves as shorthand for a corrupting, magnetic force that draws in people and destroys them. Some people, notably the devoutly Christian, manage to avoid these effects, but everyone else suffers when they fall into its borders: Absalom Kumalo commits murder, Gertrude Kumalo falls in with a bad crowd, Arthur Jarvis is killed, John Kumalo becomes a corrupted politician. In the city, people are unable to find housing and so shantytowns spring up, there are not enough jobs or money, crime is rampant—each truth of Johannesburg, in turn, begets more suffering. Given that the origins of Johannesburg are that of colonization (invading Dutch forces conquering an already-settled land), this force is explicable. When Johannesburg emerges in the text, both in the presence and in name, watch for the slow-creeping presence of metaphorical rot.


Money is a common manifestation of the corruption of Johannesburg. Sometimes, there is not enough of it, driving crime, poverty, disease, suffering, and death. Other times—like when gold is discovered at Odendaalsrust—there is too much of it, unevenly distributed in the wrong hands. The forces controlling the mining throw up temporary communities around the mines and do not pay their men enough. These miners are removed from their families and homes, forced to dig up and ruin the earth for the profit of their white overlords, and ultimately the tribe and the land it used to live on is destroyed, leading to more crime, poverty, disease, suffering, and death. Also, the presence of gold drives up speculation, threatening downfall at any moment. Money in Cry, The Beloved Country is unstable, misappropriated, and, ultimately, insufficient.


The earth/land of South Africa is the stabilizing force for her inhabitants. Where she (the earth is often referred to as a kind of mother) is respected and loved, she is nourishing, healthy, and able to support her people. Where she is destroyed—through urbanization (Johannesburg), through mining (the search for gold)—there is corruption, decay, drought, and a resulting poverty, starvation and thirst, etc. The most elemental of these symbols, she is also the most consistent. When her land is stripped and drought is followed by heavy rain, the earth is rightly described as “bleeding.” She is her people, and her people are her, and destruction of one begins a cycle of destruction for the other. Where the earth/land is referenced in Cry, The Beloved Country, look at her treatment by her citizens—if she’s being hurt, they will be hurt. If she is being supported, good things will follow.

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