In the novel, Cry The Beloved Country, Alan Paton teaches the reader that a hierarchical society is unjust. This story follows Stephen Kumalo around South Africa just before Apartheid. Kumalo starts in the small farm town of Ndotsheni, The story takes him to various places in South Africa, including the town of Johannesburg, where he finds his family, along with some very important information about his son, all during very critical times in the history of the country. South Africa at the time of the country was very segregated, due to the hierarchical nature of the political system in South Africa.
Superiority of one group causes those below to have poor quality of life. For example, on page 94 in the novel, Stephen Kumalo travels to the outskirts of one of the major cities in South Africa, where the working class members of the society live. Paton describes one of the homes as: “A sheet of iron, a few panels, hessiah and grass, an old door from some forgotten house….
.” (p.94). The people who are working class or lower class live in very run down and broken homes, which is a very harmful and stressful way to live. Although Kumalo is not a very rich man, he is a priest in Notendeshi and therefore has a much nicer house and social standard because of his rank. Another example of this is in a conversation between Kumalo and a rich white boy. “I would like a drink of milk, said the boy, ice cold from the fridge.
Inkosana, there is no fridge in Ndotsheni. Just ordinary milk then Umfundisi. Inkosana there is no milk in Ndotsheni. The small boy flushed, I would like water Umfundisi.” (p.269). The boy (lives among the most rich people) asked for something simple, cold milk, and as he carries out his request the reader finds out that the lower-class town of Ndotsheni considers necessities like a refrigerator or milk a luxury, and something they do not have. The minorities in this novel express their humanity through their lack of representation due to their position in society.
Being superior gives one unfair power over occupation of those below. Throughout this story, there are several large issues that involve the unfair treatment of the working class people of South Africa. For example, the words written in the book of Arthur Jarvis, describing the working people of South Africa state that: “It was permissible to use unskilled men for unskilled work, but it is not permissible to keep men unskilled for the sake of unskilled work.” (p.178). This quote describes the unfair opportunities given to the working class in order to keep the people who are more privileged in the society happy and thriving. There are decisions made throughout the story to keep the working class lacking in opportunity. Another example of this is the description of God and his infinite wisdom, saying “He gives approval to any human action that is designed to keep black men from advancement.” (p. 179). This quote was spoken by Stephen Kumalo, and his imitation of a how a white man hears the words of God, as that those who are below are meant to stay as such, and that it is the right of those above to keep them below.
Those who are high up in the hierarchy want equality in theory, however, they do very little to help those in need. Part of Arthur Jarvis’ writing describes how many people actually feel about those below them. “We believe in help for the underdog, but we want him to stay under.”(p.187). This is an example of sympathy versus popularity. People want popularity, but they will not risk their status or their position to allow for it. Another example of this is on page 187: “We believe in the brotherhood of man, but we do not want it.” (p.187) This quote represents the difference between want and belief, and those that want equality versus those who believe it could be beneficial.
In conclusion, the novel “Cry The Beloved Country” by Alan Paton teaches the reader that a hierarchical society is ultimately unjust and will hurt those involved in the long run and that this kind of society results in uneven power distribution. Throughout the novel, Alan Paton displays this theme through the characters who participate in this type of society.