In this essay, my goal will be to try and explore the ways that Paton uses Fathers and son relationships in Cry, the beloved Country to show and represent the race relations at the time in South Africa and how he uses them to paint us a picture of how it was really like, living in the country and maybe even what any person living at the time would have experienced living there.
Firstly, there is a relationship between James Jarvis, a white man, who owns a farm near Ndotsheni, and his son Arthur Jarvis, who went to Johannesburg as an engineer. These two have quite a complex and interesting relationship, especially because Arthur is killed while working in Johannesburg. He is shot dead by Absalom, Stephens son[JO1] . This means that the two of them haven’t had contact for quite some time after Arthur left home, and it is now a big shock to James, simply because he loses the ability to relate and really get to know his son, because he is dead. The effect of this can be seen when James goes to Johannesburg after his son’s death and he goes through his son’s writings. Here there is a section in the novel with some interesting wording. “Jarvis sat in the chair of his son”. Paton chooses to write it like this instead of just writing “Jarvis sat in his son’s chair”. This way he puts the emphasis of the sentence on the fact that the chair belongs to Arthur rather than the chair itself. This symbolises, that James really hasn’t gotten over his son’s death and still sees everything in the house as his son’s property and active belongings. His son had always had a different attitude to black people, then his father.
A major reason for this, is that the farm, which James Jarvis owns, has black workers on it, so that James is used to and had grown up with black people working for him and not really with him. Another reason could be that Arthur is always described as very intelligent and bright, for example when even Stephen, even though he had never really known Arthur, says “There was a brightness in him.” Maybe he had the ability to see the situation from a completely perspective and he managed to form himself a much more neutral and non-biased opinion.[JO2] This relationship could be interpreted as being supposed to representing the relationship between the older generation that lives in South Africa, represented by James Jarvis, which is used having a white oppression of black people, while the new, younger situation, represented by Arthur Jarvis, is open to new ideas and concepts and is able to maybe even find a way for the two kinds of people to live in peace together.
Next, there is the relationship between Stephen Kumalo, a preacher from the small countryside town of Ndotsheni, and his son Absalom Kumalo, who went to Johannesburg at a young age and has now turned into a criminal because of the temptations of the big city. This is things like liquor, prostitution and theft. Absalom falls into this spiral of crime and is a thief in Johannesburg until he gets sent to a reformatory school. The young white man, who manages thee school says that “Your son has done very well here” to Stephen. After he is released from there, partly because of his good behaviour but also because he has gotten a girl pregnant, he first gets a job and a home, but after a while he falls back into crime a theft. One day, he and two other young men, the others are John Kumalo’s son Matthew and another young man, Johannes Pafuri, go to rob a house in one of the rich, “white”, parts of the city. Inside the house, they first encounter a servant, who they beat down, but then the white owner of the house notices and surprises the three downstairs, Absalom shoots because he is scared and kills him, the three run away. The owner of the house was Arthur Jarvis. Eventually his father finds him, they meet in prison, after Absalom had been caught. The two also have quite an extraordinary relationship, since the two haven’t seen each other in a long time and because Stephen had just been living a quiet and peaceful life in Ndotsheni, while his son was in the big city and has gotten up to crime and other unrightfully things. When his father asks Absalom, why has done these things, the only thing he can reply with is, that the devil made him do it. Absalom is sentenced for punishment by death.
This relationship can be seen to represent the differences between the older generation to the younger one, how the old generation wants to stick to their values and how they do this by isolating themselves or just “not being in Johannesburg”, while the younger generation wants to experience all the new things, which pulls them towards Johannesburg, which then results in terrible things like the murder of another person and being pulled into crime. Lastly, there is the relationship between John Kumalo, Stephen Kumalo’s brother and his son Matthew Kumalo, who was also involved in the robbery on Arthur Jarvis. We do not know a lot about this relationship, since it is never described in the novel and we don’t ever get an insight into how the two live and interact, but we can still see, that it is quite an unhappy and toxic relationship. This is especially present, when Matthew Kumalo is in court, and his father does the following: He tells the court, that there is no evidence, that his son and the other young man, Johannes Pafuri, were there in the first place. This way he pushes everything onto Absalom and makes him alone responsible for the crime, which is why he is sentenced to death. Later, after this, the two, John and Matthew, can be seen celebrating this IN FRONT OF Stephen, whose son was just sentenced to death. John doesn’t really care about his brothers’ well-being if Absalom is alright, and we can see this, when all he has to say is “Well, well, I have heard of it...”. The two have a relationship, that is all about just keeping them alright by using all kinds of advantages and tricks for themselves. This relationship can be seen to represent how the white people in South Africa at that time use the black people for their advantage or how people in general can be consumed by their selfishness until their personalities disappear and all that remains is someone, who feeds of others.
To conclude, I would like to say, that I personally think that Paton really does use these relationships to describe the race relations in South Africa at the time, he does this really well, since it gives people something that they can really relate to, even if they don’t really know, what was going on at that time in the country, but I think most people should be able to relate to a father and sons relationship.
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