1. Msimangu says that the main problem facing the native population of South Africa is that nothing has been built to replace the broken moral and social framework of the tribes. John Kumalo thinks the main trouble is economic inequality. Based on the evidence in the novel, which of these men is right?
It is impossible to separate economic inequality and the breakdown of the tribal way of life fully, because to a large degree, economic inequality is responsible for this breakdown. The land can no longer support the people, so the young men and women migrate to the morally corrupted cities. In this sense, both men are right. But Msimangu has a better grasp of the complexity of the problems gripping South Africa and a more attractive vision of what a better South Africa may look like. John seems to believe that black people simply need more money and power to be free. Msimangu, however, envisions freedom as the right to live in a moral and just society, not as power and possessions. He would like to see South Africa built on a foundation of selfless love rather than personal self-interest. Without a moral framework and new traditions to give life meaning, he believes, money and power will bring little happiness. John’s vision of life lacks a commitment to family and high ideals and is therefore essentially empty.
2. What is the role of Christianity—a European religion embraced by most of the natives, including Kumalo—in Cry, the Beloved Country? Why has it not succeeded in improving the moral framework of the tribal system?
Christianity is central to Kumalo’s character and his understanding of the world. It is his Christian faith that allows him to bear the hardships that he faces. If everyone in South Africa embraced the Christian ideals of brotherly love, forgiveness, and charity, then perhaps Christianity could succeed in replacing the broken tribal system. Some whites in South Africa, however, use Christianity to rationalize injustice. They claim that God wants the blacks to remain unskilled and lacking power. In this way, Christianity becomes part of South Africa’s problems instead of a potential solution. Kumalo’s Christianity seems to blend tribal values and Christian values, which overlap a good deal. He calls God “Tixo,” an African word for the Great Spirit, and the tribal ideas about the importance of the family are indistinguishable from Christian ones. It would seem that true Christianity is as threatened by the injustices of South Africa as the old tribal structure once was.
3. What role does the landscape play in the novel? What does the valley surrounding Ndotsheni seem to represent?
The landscape surrounding Ndotsheni represents the basic goodness and beauty of Africa. This land can nourish and sustain a large number of people and give them great happiness. In Ndotsheni itself, however, the land is not so beautiful. It has been damaged by over-grazing and poor farming techniques. Lacking education and restricted to limited plots of land, the villagers of Ndotsheni injure the land because they have not been taught to protect it and because too many of them are competing for the same resources. The beauty of South Africa, it would seem, depends upon the justice and wisdom of the social systems it supports. If these systems are ugly, then the land will come to mirror them. South Africa’s beauty is a source of hope, but this hope must be carefully protected and nurtured. Jarvis’s attempt, at the end of the novel, to teach the people of Ndotsheni better farming techniques is a step in this direction.
1. One of the novel’s goals seems to be to offer a balanced portrayal of both white and black perspectives without condemning either side. Does the novel succeed in this goal? Is it too judgmental? Does it oversimplify any issues?
2. In some ways, Cry, the Beloved Country seems to be a novel designed to convince South African society of the value of equality and social justice. What methods does it use to do so? Are some more effective than others?
3. Both Kumalo and Jarvis undergo revelations during the novel. Jarvis finally sees the injustice of South African society, and Kumalo realizes the consequences of losing the old tribal customs. Compare the two men’s journeys over the course of the novel. In what ways are they alike? In what ways do they differ?
4. What role do women play in the novel? How do the injustices they face affect them? Do they suffer from injustices that the men do not?
5. Cry, the Beloved Country contrasts the rural and urban ways of life. How do the world of Johannesburg and the world of Ndotsheni differ? Does one place seem to be more just than the other? Does one place seem more likely to produce a just South Africa?