Cry, the Beloved Country

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Johannesburg Symbol Analysis

Johannesburg Symbol Icon
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 presence and in name, watch for the slow-creeping presence of metaphorical rot.

Johannesburg Quotes in Cry, the Beloved Country

The Cry, the Beloved Country quotes below all refer to the symbol of Johannesburg. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
The Land and the Tribe Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Scribner edition of Cry, the Beloved Country published in 2003.
Book I, Chapter 1 Quotes

Down in the valleys women scratch the soil that is left, and the maize hardly reaches the height of a man. They are valleys of old men and old women, of mothers and children. The men are away, the young men and the girls are away. The soil cannot keep them any more.

Related Symbols: Johannesburg, Earth/Land
Page Number: 24
Explanation and Analysis:

The narrator has described two contrasting landscapes: grassy hills that are lush and pleasant, and valleys that are "coarse," barren, and dangerous. The valleys have been damaged and exhausted by industrialization, over-farming, and mining. In this passage, the narrator mentions that all the young people in the valleys have left, as the land is not fertile enough to sustain them. Although it is not mentioned explicitly, the young people are forced to go to the cities to earn money there, as this represents the only hope of survival. This dilemma is of central importance within the narrative. Like the young people in this paragraph, Stephen's son, Absalom, moves to the city, only to be driven to crime. Disconnected from the land, people are vulnerable to corruption.

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Book I, Chapter 2 Quotes

All roads lead to Johannesburg.

Related Symbols: Johannesburg
Page Number: 30
Explanation and Analysis:

Stephen has received a letter from the Rev. Theophilus Msimangu in Johannesburg telling him that his sister, Gertrude, is ill. Stephen resolves to use the money he had been saving for the education of his son, Absalom, to bring Gertrude back from Johannesburg. Stephen prepares to leave the next day, and the narrator comments that "all roads lead to Johannesburg." This statement is an adaptation of the Roman proverb, "All roads lead to Rome." The meaning of the proverb is that many different paths or approaches can lead to the same result. In this context, the statement refers to the inevitability of being drawn to Johannesburg. Stephen's brother, sister, and son have all gone there, and now Stephen himself must finally also make the journey. Even though the city is presented as an almost entirely negative place, still everyone finds themselves drawn there for one reason or another.

Book I, Chapter 3 Quotes

The journey had begun. And now the fear back again, the fear of the unknown, the fear of the great city where boys were killed crossing the street, the fear of Gertrude’s sickness. Deep down the fear for his son. Deep down the fear of a man who lives in a world not made for him, whose own world is slipping away, dying, being destroyed, beyond any recall.

Related Characters: Stephen Kumalo, Absalom Kumalo, Gertrude Kumalo
Related Symbols: Johannesburg
Page Number: 34
Explanation and Analysis:

The narrator has described the train journey to Johannesburg; the train goes through the hills, and beautiful plants grow along the side of the tracks. Stephen has arrived for the train an hour early, feeling anxious about the trip. In this passage, the narrator describes Stephen's fears about Johannesburg, Gertrude, and Absalom. To some extent, these fears are concrete, based on the knowledge that Gertrude is sick, and that in the city traffic is so dangerous people are killed simply by crossing the street. However, Stephen's anxiety is also more fundamental and abstract. At this stage, he doesn't know what has become of Absalom, but (correctly) assumes that all is not well. 

Meanwhile, the narrator's comment that Stephen is "a man who lives in a world not made for him, whose own world is slipping away" highlights the fact that his worries pertain to something deeper than this specific trip to Johannesburg. Colonization and modernization have ushered in a new South Africa, one that is hostile to Stephen and, ultimately, to black South Africans in general. The narrator's words foreshadow the coming apartheid regime, which––although it has not yet been established––seems to be contained under the surface of the existing landscape of the country. 

Book I, Chapter 9 Quotes

All roads lead to Johannesburg. If you are white or if you are black they lead to Johannesburg. If the crops fail, there is work in Johannesburg. If there are taxes to be paid, there is work in Johannesburg. If the farm is too small to be divided further, some must go to Johannesburg. If there is a child to be born that must be delivered in secret, it can be delivered in Johannesburg.

Related Symbols: Johannesburg, Money/Gold, Earth/Land
Page Number: 73
Explanation and Analysis:

Stephen has learned that Absalom is living in a shanty town, and he and Msimangu have set off to find him. Meanwhile, a second voice has joined the primary narrator, and in this passage the narration returns to the earlier statement that "all roads lead to Johannesburg," expanding on the many reasons why people are drawn to the city. In contrast to more optimistic narratives that portray urbanization as an opportunity for multiculturalism, social mobility, and innovation, this passage presents the appeal of Johannesburg in rather negative terms. The narrator shows that people are forced to go to Johannesburg as a result of desperation caused by failed crops, poverty, or unwanted pregnancies. Rather than being a city of opportunity, Johannesburg is the inevitable destination of those who are poor, oppressed, or otherwise unlucky. 

Book II, Chapter 20 Quotes

The old tribal system was, for all its violence and savagery, for all its superstition and witchcraft, a moral system. Our natives today produce criminals and prostitutes and drunkards, not because it is their nature to do so, but because their simple system of order and tradition and convention has been destroyed. It was destroyed by the impact of our own civilization. Our civilization has therefore an inescapable duty to set up another system of order and tradition and convention. It is true that we hoped to preserve the tribal system by a policy of segregation. That was permissible. But we never did it thoroughly or honestly. We set aside one-tenth of the land for four-fifths of the people. Thus we made it inevitable, and some say we did it knowingly, that labour would come to the towns. We are caught in the toils of our own selfishness.

Related Characters: Arthur Jarvis (speaker)
Related Symbols: Johannesburg, Money/Gold, Earth/Land
Page Number: 169
Explanation and Analysis:

James Jarvis has gone to Arthur's house and has looked through his books and papers, noting many books on Abraham Lincoln and documents indicating Arthur was President of the African Boys' Club. James also discovers a manuscript that Arthur was working on when he died. In this passage from the manuscript, Arthur describes the way in which European colonization "destroyed" the tribal communities of South Africa. From a contemporary perspective, Arthur seems rather forgiving of the white colonizers––he labels the policy of segregation "permissible," and describes the tribal system in typically racist terms, calling it full of "violence and savagery." However, for a white South African to be writing such a passage at the time would have been highly unusual. 

Arthur's critiques of the destructive legacy of European colonialism cohere with observations made throughout the novel, particular his statement that black South Africans remain stuck in a cycle of violence because "their simple system of order and tradition and convention has been destroyed." Furthermore, Arthur presciently identifies the fact that segregation was enacted in a dishonest way. He argues that the highly inequitable division of land forced people to come to the towns for work; as the rest of the novel shows, this mass influx of people has created further poverty, violence, and crime. 

Book II, Chapter 29 Quotes

… he prayed for his son. Tomorrow they would all go home, all except his son. And he would stay in the place where they would put him, in the great prison in Pretoria, in the barred and solitary cell; and mercy failing, would stay there till he was hanged. Aye, but the hand that had murdered once pressed the mother’s breast into the thirsting mouth, had stolen into the father’s hand when they went out in the dark. Aye, but the murderer afraid of death had once been a child afraid of the night.

Related Characters: Stephen Kumalo, Absalom Kumalo
Related Symbols: Johannesburg
Page Number: 239
Explanation and Analysis:

There has been a going-away party for Stephen, who will be returning to Ixopo and taking Gertrude and Absalom's wife with him. Meanwhile, Msimangu has given up all of his money and possessions to help repay what Stephen has spent in Johannesburg. Alone, Stephen counts the money, thinks regretfully about his fight with his brother, and prays for his son. He recalls Absalom as an innocent baby, reflecting on the astounding fact that the little boy he remembers grew up to commit murder. Once again, this passage focuses on the theme of corruption, and the way in which Johannesburg so drastically altered the course of Absalom's life. Note also that Stephen describes Absalom's childhood fear of the dark, a detail that emphasizes the destructive force of fear. 

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Johannesburg Symbol Timeline in Cry, the Beloved Country

The timeline below shows where the symbol Johannesburg appears in Cry, the Beloved Country. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Book I, Chapter 2
The Land and the Tribe Theme Icon
The City vs. Nature Theme Icon
Fathers, Sons, and Families Theme Icon
...wife for some food. He then examines the letter and observes that it is from Johannesburg. It is dirty, and has passed through many hands. He muses on how many people... (full context)
The Land and the Tribe Theme Icon
The City vs. Nature Theme Icon
Fathers, Sons, and Families Theme Icon
...open it. Finally, Stephen’s wife opens the letter. It is from Rev. Theophilus Msimangu of Johannesburg. He implores Stephen to come to Johannesburg, because Gertrude is very sick. (full context)
The Land and the Tribe Theme Icon
The City vs. Nature Theme Icon
Fathers, Sons, and Families Theme Icon
Understanding/Knowledge vs. Ignorance/Naiveté Theme Icon
...wife insists, however, that the money is no longer necessary because Absalom has gone to Johannesburg and won’t be returning, because no one returns from Johannesburg. He doesn’t even write. Stephen,... (full context)
The City vs. Nature Theme Icon
The roads and trains all lead toward Johannesburg. The narrator tells you to be grateful if you can sleep through the ride. (full context)
Book I, Chapter 3
The Land and the Tribe Theme Icon
The City vs. Nature Theme Icon
Fathers, Sons, and Families Theme Icon
...money it will cost at every turn. He also recalls how dangerous the streets of Johannesburg are, and a story about a woman he knew who went there and saw her... (full context)
The Land and the Tribe Theme Icon
Racism and Apartheid Theme Icon
...he would inquire after the missing daughter of Sibeko, who was also swallowed up by Johannesburg. Stephen promises to do what he can, though he seems uncertain if it’s possible. As... (full context)
The Land and the Tribe Theme Icon
The City vs. Nature Theme Icon
Understanding/Knowledge vs. Ignorance/Naiveté Theme Icon
...loudly enough for the train to hear, that he shall inquire after the daughter in Johannesburg, even though he’ll be very busy. The train begins to move, and Stephen needs to... (full context)
Book I, Chapter 4
The City vs. Nature Theme Icon
Understanding/Knowledge vs. Ignorance/Naiveté Theme Icon
...work, and Stephen is thrilled by the newness of it. He asks if this is Johannesburg. The passengers laugh, and begin to describe the hugeness of Johannesburg. Stephen insists that this... (full context)
Book I, Chapter 5
The Land and the Tribe Theme Icon
The City vs. Nature Theme Icon
...his room, and asks him some questions about his sister Gertrude—why she had come to Johannesburg, if she had ever been married. Stephen says that she came there with her child... (full context)
Book I, Chapter 6
The Land and the Tribe Theme Icon
Racism and Apartheid Theme Icon
The City vs. Nature Theme Icon
The next morning, Msimangu and Stephen head into Johannesburg to find Gertrude. Msimangu admits that though he is not for segregation, the downside to... (full context)
The Land and the Tribe Theme Icon
The City vs. Nature Theme Icon
Christian Faith Theme Icon
Fathers, Sons, and Families Theme Icon
...her prostitution and not keeping track of her child. She begins weeping, and says that Johannesburg has made her sick and she does not want to be there anymore, though she... (full context)
The Land and the Tribe Theme Icon
The City vs. Nature Theme Icon
Fathers, Sons, and Families Theme Icon
Understanding/Knowledge vs. Ignorance/Naiveté Theme Icon
...room. Stephen feels overjoyed and accomplished, that after only a single day of being in Johannesburg, he is putting right what is broken. (full context)
Book I, Chapter 7
The Land and the Tribe Theme Icon
Fathers, Sons, and Families Theme Icon
Understanding/Knowledge vs. Ignorance/Naiveté Theme Icon
...beautiful day, and Stephen is writing a letter to his wife about his adventures in Johannesburg, and how successful the endeavor has been so far. He tells her that this day,... (full context)
The Land and the Tribe Theme Icon
The City vs. Nature Theme Icon
Fathers, Sons, and Families Theme Icon
...and John says that Stephen and his community do not understand how life is in Johannesburg, and to write with such details would bring about “unnecessary trouble.” When Stephen presses him... (full context)
The Land and the Tribe Theme Icon
Fathers, Sons, and Families Theme Icon
Understanding/Knowledge vs. Ignorance/Naiveté Theme Icon
...to fetch Gertrude and to take her back with him to Ixopo. John agrees that Johannesburg is not a good place for a single woman, and that this is a wise... (full context)
Book I, Chapter 8
The Land and the Tribe Theme Icon
The City vs. Nature Theme Icon
...Msimangu assures Stephen that they cannot catch a wrong one, for they all go into Johannesburg. Then they try to catch a bus to the neighborhood of Alexandra, which is where... (full context)
Understanding/Knowledge vs. Ignorance/Naiveté Theme Icon
...that he is in a shantytown. They thank him, and take his cab back to Johannesburg. (full context)
Book I, Chapter 9
The Land and the Tribe Theme Icon
Racism and Apartheid Theme Icon
The City vs. Nature Theme Icon
...chorus. They tell of how the brokenness of the land and people leads directly into Johannesburg. People go there in droves, and they are constantly in search of a room in... (full context)
Book I, Chapter 13
The Land and the Tribe Theme Icon
The City vs. Nature Theme Icon
Fathers, Sons, and Families Theme Icon
Understanding/Knowledge vs. Ignorance/Naiveté Theme Icon
...done to create such a son, but then considers that that is the power of Johannesburg. (full context)
Book I, Chapter 15
The Land and the Tribe Theme Icon
The City vs. Nature Theme Icon
Christian Faith Theme Icon
Fathers, Sons, and Families Theme Icon
Understanding/Knowledge vs. Ignorance/Naiveté Theme Icon
...toward them. He marvels at how so many boys get lost and go astray in Johannesburg—why their son, in this particular way, when there are thousands of others? Father Vincent tells... (full context)
Book I, Chapter 16
The Land and the Tribe Theme Icon
Fathers, Sons, and Families Theme Icon
Understanding/Knowledge vs. Ignorance/Naiveté Theme Icon
...says that she thinks she is sixteen. He asks if she would desire to leave Johannesburg to come and live with him and his wife, in a quiet place. Again, she... (full context)
Book I, Chapter 17
The Land and the Tribe Theme Icon
Fathers, Sons, and Families Theme Icon
...He says that he will eventually bring her back with him, but until he leaves Johannesburg, he wants her out of the other house. Mrs. Lithebe agrees, though there isn’t a... (full context)
Book II, Chapter 18
The City vs. Nature Theme Icon
Fathers, Sons, and Families Theme Icon
Understanding/Knowledge vs. Ignorance/Naiveté Theme Icon
...James the bad news—his son Arthur has been murdered that very afternoon, shot dead in Johannesburg by a burglar. Stupefied by this news, James sits down and tries to process what... (full context)
Book II, Chapter 19
Racism and Apartheid Theme Icon
Fathers, Sons, and Families Theme Icon
Understanding/Knowledge vs. Ignorance/Naiveté Theme Icon
James’s daughter-in-law’s brother, John Harrison, meets James and Margaret when they arrive in Johannesburg. John updates them on Mary and the children as they drive to his home. At... (full context)
Book II, Chapter 21
Racism and Apartheid Theme Icon
Fathers, Sons, and Families Theme Icon
Understanding/Knowledge vs. Ignorance/Naiveté Theme Icon
...with James. They smoke and have a drink and continue discussing the crime situation in Johannesburg. Mr. Harrison expresses firm, conservative views on the issues surrounding the black population. He expresses... (full context)
Book II, Chapter 22
The Land and the Tribe Theme Icon
Racism and Apartheid Theme Icon
Fathers, Sons, and Families Theme Icon
Understanding/Knowledge vs. Ignorance/Naiveté Theme Icon
...was carrying a gun in the first place. Absalom says that he was told that Johannesburg was a dangerous place, and bought the gun for protection. The judge leads Absalom through... (full context)
Book II, Chapter 23
The Land and the Tribe Theme Icon
Racism and Apartheid Theme Icon
The City vs. Nature Theme Icon
Understanding/Knowledge vs. Ignorance/Naiveté Theme Icon
...in this new place proves to be as much as it promises, perhaps a second Johannesburg will spring up around it. (full context)
The Land and the Tribe Theme Icon
Racism and Apartheid Theme Icon
The City vs. Nature Theme Icon
Fathers, Sons, and Families Theme Icon
Understanding/Knowledge vs. Ignorance/Naiveté Theme Icon
Those wet blankets, though, definitely don’t want a second Johannesburg. Sir Ernest Oppenheimer has suggested that this would be a good place to test a... (full context)
Book II, Chapter 25
The Land and the Tribe Theme Icon
Racism and Apartheid Theme Icon
Understanding/Knowledge vs. Ignorance/Naiveté Theme Icon
...looking for the daughter of Sibeko. The mistress says that she had indeed come to Johannesburg and lived there, but she had gone bad and started doing illegal things, and was... (full context)
Book II, Chapter 26
Racism and Apartheid Theme Icon
The City vs. Nature Theme Icon
John Kumalo is leading a protest in Johannesburg. His voice electrifies the crowd, makes the policemen uneasy. The protest is about the recently... (full context)
Book II, Chapter 27
The Land and the Tribe Theme Icon
The City vs. Nature Theme Icon
Fathers, Sons, and Families Theme Icon
...so weak, that she wants to do right by Stephen. She says that she hates Johannesburg and understands it to be toxic, and wants to leave. (full context)
Book II, Chapter 28
The Land and the Tribe Theme Icon
Racism and Apartheid Theme Icon
Fathers, Sons, and Families Theme Icon
Understanding/Knowledge vs. Ignorance/Naiveté Theme Icon
...how Mr. Carmichael is trying to make an argument for a simple boy mislead by Johannesburg. But the judge argues, society has created laws, and if those laws are broken, then... (full context)
Book II, Chapter 29
The Land and the Tribe Theme Icon
Fathers, Sons, and Families Theme Icon
Understanding/Knowledge vs. Ignorance/Naiveté Theme Icon
...John that he should be careful for his own son, lest he be consumed by Johannesburg like Absalom. He also cautions John to be careful with his politics, and when pressed,... (full context)
Fathers, Sons, and Families Theme Icon
Understanding/Knowledge vs. Ignorance/Naiveté Theme Icon
Meanwhile, James and Margaret are also preparing to leave Johannesburg. James leaves a large sum of money to John Harrison to start a club, possibly... (full context)
The Land and the Tribe Theme Icon
The City vs. Nature Theme Icon
Christian Faith Theme Icon
Fathers, Sons, and Families Theme Icon
Understanding/Knowledge vs. Ignorance/Naiveté Theme Icon
...and gives Stephen all of his money, to help repay what Stephen has spent in Johannesburg. After he is gone, Stephen counts the money, repents of the fight with his brother... (full context)
Book III, Chapter 30
Fathers, Sons, and Families Theme Icon
Understanding/Knowledge vs. Ignorance/Naiveté Theme Icon
...the gift. Stephen then prepares to tell her about the events that took place in Johannesburg. (full context)
Book III, Chapter 31
The Land and the Tribe Theme Icon
Understanding/Knowledge vs. Ignorance/Naiveté Theme Icon
...enough, so he goes to the chief. He feels wise enough from his experiences in Johannesburg to advise the chief on this issue. As he walks to see the chief, he... (full context)
Book III, Chapter 33
The Land and the Tribe Theme Icon
Fathers, Sons, and Families Theme Icon
Understanding/Knowledge vs. Ignorance/Naiveté Theme Icon
...again. He has ridden back to say goodbye to Stephen because he is returning to Johannesburg tomorrow. He promises that he is returning for the holidays, and then rides away. As... (full context)
Book III, Chapter 35
The Land and the Tribe Theme Icon
Racism and Apartheid Theme Icon
Understanding/Knowledge vs. Ignorance/Naiveté Theme Icon
...not be big enough to hold all the people, and some would still go to Johannesburg. (full context)
Book III, Chapter 36
The Land and the Tribe Theme Icon
Christian Faith Theme Icon
Fathers, Sons, and Families Theme Icon
Understanding/Knowledge vs. Ignorance/Naiveté Theme Icon
...after Napoleon, and then tells Stephen that he is going to be leaving Ndotsheni for Johannesburg. When James asks Stephen where he is going, Stephen says that he is going into... (full context)