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.
Racism and Apartheid ThemeTracker
Racism and Apartheid Quotes in Cry, the Beloved Country
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.