Cry, the Beloved Country

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Themes and Colors
The Land and the Tribe Theme Icon
Racism and Apartheid 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
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Cry, the Beloved Country, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Racism and Apartheid Theme Icon

Cry, The Beloved Country takes place during the historical period of growing racial tension and strife that led to the political policy of apartheid in South Africa, a policy in which the ruling whites enforced a system of strict racial segregation. In the time when the book is set, this policy has not yet been officially enacted, but the novel shows how economic inequality along racial lines sows the seeds of resentment, mistrust, and fear that leads to an idea like apartheid coming to seem like the only possible corrective (even though in reality it only continues the cycle of violence, crime, incarceration, and death).

The novel shows the rise of shantytowns. Nonwhites are pushed to the fringes of their own city, where housing is almost impossible to come by, and so they are forced to erect temporary camps that quickly become permanent. The shantytowns are full of crime and sickness, only worsening the poverty of their inhabitants. Children die, desperate people commit crimes to try to escape poverty, men are thrown in jail, men are killed, increasing the resentment, fear, and poverty—the vicious cycle continues. The novel captures this vicious cycle through the story of Arthur and Absalom: Arthur is a white man dedicated to trying to solve the problems of South Africa, to try to break the cycle. But his work is cut short—quite literally, he is killed while working on his manuscript, in the middle of a sentence—by a young man, Absalom, caught up in the very system that Arthur was seeking to dismantle. There appears to be no way out of this cycle that corrupts everyone and everything it touches, except to leave the city and reconnect the broken tribe.

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Racism and Apartheid Quotes in Cry, the Beloved Country

Below you will find the important quotes in Cry, the Beloved Country related to the theme of Racism and Apartheid.
Book I, Chapter 5 Quotes

The tragedy is not that things are broken. The tragedy is that they are not mended again… It suited the white man to break the tribe… but it has not suited him to build something in the place of what is broken.

Related Characters: Theophilus Msimangu (speaker)
Page Number: 46
Explanation and Analysis:

Theophilus Msimangu has taken Stephen to the room where he'll be staying, and the two men have spoken about Stephen's family members who are in Johannesburg. Msimangu has explained that Stephen's brother John is a famous politician who has abandoned God, and hints that Stephen's sister Gertrude is now a prostitute. Msimangu then reflects on the "broken" nature of South African society, echoing the point made by the narrator that the country is suffering as a result of native South Africans being cut off from the land and the tribe. However, where the narrator's descriptions of the ruined natural landscape suggest that the problem lies within ruthless colonial industrialization itself, Msimangu's point is subtly different. 

Msimangu acknowledges that "the white man" has destroyed the tribe, but says that "the tragedy is not that things are broken." This implies that on some level it may have been inevitable that tribal life should come to an end, considering the global turn toward modern, urban, industrial life. However, Msimangu goes on to emphasize that when something is broken, it is necessary for it to be mended or replaced. According to this logic, the end of tribal life should have been replaced by new ways of living that similarly facilitated the familial, communal, and spiritual support originally provided by the tribe. However, this has not been the case, and instead black South Africans have been left impoverished and uprooted, disconnected from their roots and from one another. 

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Book I, Chapter 7 Quotes

I see only one hope for our country, and that is when white men and black men, desiring neither power nor money, but desiring only the good of their country, come together to work for it.

Related Characters: Theophilus Msimangu (speaker)
Related Symbols: Money/Gold
Page Number: 61
Explanation and Analysis:

Stephen and Msimangu have gone to see Stephen's brother John at his carpentry shop. There, John has spoken at length about his life and political work, including mentioning that he is no longer married to his wife, Esther, and also no longer attends church. As Stephen and Msimangu go to leave, Msimangu tells John that he sees "only one hope for our country," which is white and black men working together "desiring neither power nor money." This comment is clearly an indirect criticism of John's political motives and activities. Although John seems to have some well-grounded critiques of the racism that dominates South African society, this critique is undermined by John's own desire for money and power, as well as his desire to speak English instead of Zulu. 

Overall, the novel leaves unresolved the question of whether it is possible for South Africa to be saved by men who desire "neither money nor power." Although there are examples of good men who are white as well as black, it is also clear that these men have limited power against the forces of greed, corruption, and poverty surrounding them. In this instance, Msimangu's speech has little effect on John, who is too blinded by his desire for money and power to truly care about the good 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 I, Chapter 12 Quotes

Some cry for the cutting up of South Africa without delay into separate areas, where white can live without black, and black without white, where black can farm their own land and mine their own minerals and administer their own laws. And others cry away with the compound system, that brings men to the towns without their wives and children, and breaks up the tribe and the house and the man, and they ask for the establishment of villages for the labourers in mines and industry.

Related Symbols: Money/Gold, Earth/Land
Page Number: 99-
Explanation and Analysis:

A town hall has been held at which the murder of Arthur Jarvis is discussed, alongside other concerns about crime, social welfare, and race relations. The crowd has debated education, with some proposing that enrollment of black children in school should increase; others oppose this idea. Eventually, the crowd begins to discuss the possibility of apartheid––"the cutting up of South Africa... into separate areas, where white can live without black." The introduction of this suggestion into the context of the town hall reveals the way in which apartheid was framed as a "solution" to the problems of poverty and crime. The implication was that South Africa's problems were a result of racial mixing.

Using this logic, it is possible to make apartheid seem like an attractive and fair solution (as "separate but equal" segregation was for many whites in the American South). The narrator's explanation that black South Africans could "farm their own land and administer their own laws" makes it seem as if apartheid would benefit black people, affording them more freedom and self-determination. However, this masks the reality of what the separation of the races really entailed. Because of colonization, whites were far wealthier and possessed control over land, resources, and power––even though these entities originally belonged to native black South Africans. Overall, this passage makes clear how easy it can be to disguise oppressive policies as beneficial to those they are designed to exploit. 

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.