Cry, the Beloved Country

Cry, the Beloved Country

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The Land and the Tribe Theme Analysis

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.
The Land and the Tribe Theme Icon

In Cry, The Beloved Country, the land of South Africa and the original Zulu inhabitants of that land, often called "the tribe," depend upon each other, in a cycle of support and care. Without one, the other is broken, weakened, and dying. Many characters, including Gertrude and Absalom Kumalo, suffer greatly when they leave their village in the country for Johannesburg. The city brings death and corruption: its inhabitants, at worst, are run over by buses, shot during crimes, or die slowly of disease and poverty. At best, like Stephen’s brother John, they seek power and money for its own sake, become liquor-runners and pimps and crooked politicians, and bring harm to others. Either way, they turn away from their families, the land, the place they were born, and their faith. In losing their connection to the land they lose themselves.

In turn, the land itself is a victim. In the past, the Zulus tended the land and the land provided crops, game, and good water in return. But now the people exploit the land, they overuse it, the whites claim parts of it just for themselves, and people literally rip up the land in search of gold and profit. And as the people lose their connection to the land, the land dies. Without the cycle of supporting the land and being supported by the land, the people and the earth both come to harm. It’s no accident the torn-up earth is described as “bleeding” throughout the book. Conversely, the novel suggests that a return to the land—and leaving behind the city—can bring about healing. The suffering brought about by Absalom’s crime and Arthur’s death is only healed when James Jarvis and Stephen return to their homes in the land, bringing what they can of their families with them, and in so doing re-establish their connection and commitment to their faith and their families.

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The Land and the Tribe Quotes in Cry, the Beloved Country

Below you will find the important quotes in Cry, the Beloved Country related to the theme of The Land and the Tribe.
Book I, Chapter 1 Quotes

There is a lovely road that runs from Ixopo into the hills. These hills are grass-covered and rolling, and they are lovely beyond any singing of it. The road climbs seven miles into them, to Carisbrooke; and from there, if there is no mist, you look down on one of the fairest valleys of Africa… The grass is rich and matted, you cannot see the soil. It holds the rain and the mist, and they seep into the ground, feeding the streams in every kloof. It is well-tended, and not too many cattle feed upon it; not too many fires burn it, laying bare the soil. Stand unshod upon it, for the ground is holy, being even as it came from the Creator. Keep it, guard it, care for it, for it keeps men, guards men, cares for men. Destroy it and man is destroyed.

Related Symbols: Earth/Land
Page Number: 13
Explanation and Analysis:

The novel opens with a description of the natural landscape around Ixopo. The unnamed narrator speaks of the "grass-covered and rolling" hills in reverent terms, emphasizing the fact that the area's natural beauty is undisturbed and needs to be protected. Toward the end of this passage, the narrator uses Christian language to describe the duty to preserve the land, and warns: "Destroy it and man is destroyed." This paragraph establishes several of the novel's key themes. Rural South Africa is presented as a "rich," precious, benevolent landscape––sacred because it was created by God for the good of mankind. 

Indeed, though humanity is present within the passage, it plays a limited role in this scene of natural glory. The landscape is "lovely beyond any singing of it," implying that the land is beautiful in its own right, not because of its aesthetic or instrumental value to people. Similarly, the ground "is well-tended, and not too many cattle feed upon it; not too many fires burn it." This suggests that the native people of South Africa took good care of the land before colonization and industrialization, and still do in rural areas. However, the warning at the end of the paragraph hints at the exploitation of the land that has arisen as a result of colonization, industrial farming, and mining. The narrator's words imply that these activities will ultimately destroy all people, regardless of race. 


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Where you stand the grass is rich and matted, you cannot see the soil. But the rich green hills break down. They fall to the valley below, and falling, change their nature. For they grow red and bare; they cannot hold the rain and mist, and the streams are dry in the kloofs. Too many cattle feed upon the grass, and too many fires have burned it. Stand shod upon it, for it is coarse and sharp, and the stones cut under the feet. It is not kept, or guarded, or cared for, it no longer keeps men, guards men, cares for men. The titihoya does not cry here any more.

Related Symbols: Earth/Land
Page Number: 23-24
Explanation and Analysis:

The narrator has described the lush natural landscape of rural South Africa: beautiful, fertile, and peaceful. This part of the country has been left relatively untouched by human activities, and flourishes as a result. However, in this passage the narrator introduces (in almost identical language) a contrasting landscape––one that has been damaged and exploited. Just as humanity has not "kept," "guarded," and "cared for" this land, so has it ceased to protect and sustain humanity. Although not stated explicitly, it is clear that the land has been over-farmed and abused as a result of European colonization. The fact that the land was once rich and undisturbed is demonstrated by the final sentence, which states that the titihoya (a native South African bird with a distinctive call) "does not cry here any more"––implying that it once did. 

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.

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 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. 

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 11 Quotes

There is not much talking now. A silence falls upon them all. This is no time to talk of hedges and fields, or the beauties of any country. Sadness and fear and hate, how they well up in the heart and mind, whenever one opens pages of these messengers of doom. Cry for the broken tribe, for the law and the custom that is gone. Aye, and cry aloud for the man who is dead, for the woman and children bereaved. Cry, the beloved country, these things are not yet at an end. The sun pours down on the earth, on the lovely land that man cannot enjoy. He knows only the fear of his heart.

Related Symbols: Earth/Land
Page Number: 94
Explanation and Analysis:

Stephen has still not found Absalom, but has discovered that Arthur Jarvis has been murdered during a home invasion. Stephen and the priests learn that Jarvis was working on a manuscript when he was killed, and that he was known for his support of the black community. In this passage, the narrator laments the state of the South African nation, which is dominated by "sadness and fear and hate." The narrator emphasizes that the country's natural beauty remains, but that people are not able to enjoy it because they are so consumed by the death and suffering around them ("the fear of [one's] heart").

This passage contains the title of the novel, which takes the form of a demand to mourn what has become of South Africa. The phrasing of the sentence "Cry, the beloved country" also suggests that it is South Africa itself that is crying. This coheres with other instances in the novel in which the land is represented as bleeding or hurting in the same way as a living organism. 

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. 

We do not know, we do not know. We shall live from day to day, and put more locks on the doors, and get a fine fierce dog when the fine fierce bitch next door has pups, and hold on to our handbags more tenaciously; and the beauty of the trees by night, and the raptures of lovers under the stars, these things we shall forego. We shall forego the coming home drunken through the midnight streets, and the evening walk over the star-lit veld. We shall be careful, and knock this off our lives, and knock that off our lives, and hedge ourselves about with safety and precaution. And our lives will shrink, but they shall be the lives of superior beings; and we shall live with fear, but at least it will not be a fear of the unknown.

Related Symbols: Money/Gold
Page Number: 100-101
Explanation and Analysis:

Following the murder of Arthur Jarvis, a town hall meeting is taking place to discuss the problem of crime. Among the courses of action proposed is the apartheid system, in which white and black people live and work separately. The narrator raises the question of what would happen given the fact that there are more black South Africans than white, yet whites hold the majority of money and power. In this passage, a chorus of voices responds "we don't know." At the same time, the chorus suggests that what will happen is that white people will become more fearful, increasing the security apparatus in their homes and avoiding going out at night.

Although the chorus speaks with an anonymous "we," it is clear the voices are those of white South Africans, due to clues such as the use of the Afrikaans word "veld" (meaning "field"). This passage illustrates how a culture of fear negatively impacts everyone in society, no matter how wealthy and powerful. As the chorus states, "our lives will shrink, but they shall be the lives of superior beings." What this sentence demonstrates is the subtle, contradictory logic of white supremacy––although white people are negatively impacted by racism, they also benefit in many ways, as racist structures secure their position of power in monetary, social, political, and even psychological terms. 

Cry, the beloved country, for the unborn child that is the inheritor of our fear. Let him not love the earth too deeply. Let him not laugh too gladly when the water runs through his fingers, nor stand too silent when the setting sun makes red the veld with fire. Let him not be too moved when the birds of his land are singing, nor give too much of his heart to a mountain or a valley. For fear will rob him of all if he gives too much.

Related Symbols: Earth/Land
Page Number: 101
Explanation and Analysis:

A town hall has been held to discuss the problem of crime, during which time some people have suggested implementing an apartheid system. The narrator, speaking in the voice of a (white) chorus, has hinted at the likely repercussions of apartheid: white people living in a constant state of pre-emptive aggression and fear, cutting themselves off from the country while simultaneously further establishing themselves as the superior race. In this passage, the chorus refers to an unborn child whom it wishes will not "love the earth too deeply," because "fear will rob him of all." The chorus repeats the novel's title, "Cry, the beloved country," linking this passage back to earlier lamentations about the state of South Africa. 

The chorus's words refer to an abstract child, who––given the way this passage links to previous discussions of the fear of white South Africans––is presumably white. Although the child is unnamed, the chorus could also be referring to a specific character in the novel: Arthur Jarvis. The chorus's plea that the child not "love" or "be moved" by the land perhaps connects to Jarvis's concern about native South Africans. Indeed, the fact that it was Jarvis who was accidentally murdered is framed as all the more tragic, due to the fact that he represented hope for South African race relations. 

Book I, Chapter 13 Quotes

What broke in a man when he could bring himself to kill another? What broke when he could bring himself to thrust down the knife into the warm flesh, to bring down the axe on the living head, to cleave down between the seeing eyes, to shoot the gun that would drive death into the beating heart?

Related Characters: Stephen Kumalo (speaker)
Page Number: 109
Explanation and Analysis:

Stephen and Msimangu have gone to a home for the blind, and while Msimangu attends to his duties there, Stephen contemplates the news about Absalom. To Stephen, it is inconceivable that Absalom was able to murder another man. His rhetorical question of "what broke in a man when he could bring himself to kill another?" reflects earlier passages in which Msimangu describes the tribe as "broken." This connects Absalom's actions to the destruction of the tribe by colonialism.

Note that Stephen is preoccupied less with the moral disposition that could lead a man to commit murder than with the physical action of killing someone––"to bring down the axe on the living head, to cleave down between the seeing eyes." This visceral description highlights how personally implicated Stephen feels in the murder, a result of the fact that it was committed by his own son. It also suggests that Stephen is not considering the question from the perspective of religious faith, but in a more practical, tangible way. Indeed, Msimangu will soon criticize Stephen for sinking into a "sinful" despair. 

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 24 Quotes

One can read, as I read when I was a boy, the brochures about lovely South Africa, that land of sun and beauty sheltered from the storms of the world, and feel pride in it and love for it, and yet know nothing about it at all. It is only as one grows up that one learns that there are other things here than sun and gold and oranges. It is only then that one learns of the hates and fears of our country. It is only then that one's love grows deep and passionate, as a man may love a woman who is true, false, cold, loving, cruel and afraid.

Related Characters: Arthur Jarvis (speaker)
Related Symbols: Earth/Land
Page Number: 197
Explanation and Analysis:

James has returned to Arthur's house to read again from the manuscript his son was writing when he was killed. He has reread the exact passage Arthur was composing when he was shot, before turning to another essay Arthur had previously written. In this essay, Arthur describes his childhood naïveté about South Africa. He writes that children are shown only a very narrow view of the country, one that emphasizes its natural beauty but ignores the social strife and other problems that plague the nation. Somewhat surprisingly, Arthur then argues that it is only after discovering these harsh facts about South Africa that is possible to truly love the country. 

This passage suggests that Arthur is the kind of person who Msimangu described as representing hope for South Africa's future––someone who is not motivated by the desire for money or power, but rather by a deep, honest love for the country. On the other hand, Arthur's description of his love of South Africa does seem particular to a white South African experience. Stephen's love of his country, for example, does seem to dwell much more in the natural landscape and tribal system that existed before European colonization. Unlike in Arthur's case, this love does not emerge from childhood naïveté, but from the fact that this is the version of South Africa with which Stephen and his ancestors are familiar. 

Book II, Chapter 29 Quotes

He had come to tell his brother that power corrupts, that a man who fights for justice must himself be cleansed and purified, that love is greater than force. And none of these things had he done… He turned to the door, but it was locked and bolted. Brother had shut out brother, from the same womb had they come.

Related Characters: Stephen Kumalo, John Kumalo
Page Number: 236
Explanation and Analysis:

Absalom has been married to his girlfriend in prison. Afterward, Stephen stays to speak with Absalom, and promises to take care of his unborn child. Stephen then goes to see John at his carpentry shop, and advises him to be careful about both his son and his political actions. However, John reacts defensively to Stephen's warnings, and violently forces his brother to leave, even locking him out. This interaction suggests that some people are not able to escape corruption. Unlike Absalom, who shows remorse for his crime and reforms himself before death, John is committed to a life of greed and dishonesty, and refuses to hear any contradictory advice about this from his brother. The narrator emphasizes the power of corruption by mentioning that John and Stephen came "from the same womb," but John has now shut Stephen out of his life completely. 

… 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. 

Book III, Chapter 36 Quotes

The great valley of the Umzimkulu is still in darkness, but the light will come there. Ndotsheni is still in darkness, but the light will come there also. For it is the dawn that has come, as it has come for a thousand centuries, never failing. But when that dawn will come, of our emancipation, from the fear of bondage and the bondage of fear, why, that is a secret.

Related Symbols: Earth/Land
Page Number: 304
Explanation and Analysis:

The day before Absalom is due to be executed, Stephen decides to go up the mountain. He has done this three times before, all at moments of crisis, when he was in need of spiritual guidance and strength. Having arrived at his destination, Stephen confesses his sins and gives thanks before falling asleep. He awakes just before dawn, and in this passage the narrator describes the natural landscape at the hour just before it is illuminated by the sunrise. The narrator emphasizes the contrast between the predictable cycle of sunlight that has been the same "for a thousand centuries" and the unknowability of the future. This refers both to the specific fate of Absalom, as well as to the broader fate of South Africa as a whole.

The passage contains a clear sense of hope that this metaphorical dawn will come (just as the literal dawn eventually comes even to valleys that are "still in darkness"), bringing the "emancipation" of the people from "the fear of bondage and the bondage of fear." This last phrase represents the two oppressive states of existence experienced by black and white South Africans, respectively. The black community, who have suffered from colonialism, exploitation, racism, and poverty, live under "the fear of bondage"; meanwhile, Afrikaners are paralyzed by "the bondage of fear," which inhibits their empathy for black people and leads them to perpetuate racist violence. The hope for change within the passage is strong, but also tentative. The narrator seems sure that the "dawn will come," but how long it will take remains completely unknown.