Suffering Of The Black Women In Alan Patonꞌs Novel Cry, The Beloved Country

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Abstract

The paper focused on depiction of black female characters in Paton’s cry, the beloved country. By means of textual analysis, the study examined how the representation of female characters in this novel reflected the life of black woman in South African society in the first half of the nineteen century. This paper explored the portrayal of female characters in this novel by examining the ways in which Paton characterized the black woman and her suffering during the racial segregation period.

During the period of racial segregation in South Africa, the black woman was marginalized in her marginalized community. She became the victim of the racial segregation and, moreover, she was the victim of her society’s customs.

Key words: suffering, segregation, natives

Introduction

The paper explores the portrayal of female characters in the novel, Cry, the Beloved Country, by examining the ways in which Paton characterizes the black woman and her suffering during the first half of the twentieth century.

As we knew from the historical texts, it was the man who had authority in South African society; woman was seen as subordinate to man before the second half of the 20th century. And Cry, the Beloved Country, is considered as a historical novel that

It is known that the novel, Cry, the Beloved Country, has been read in multiple ways: as a narrative of racial injustice, as a story of reconciliation, as a religious morality tale, or as a study of white liberal paternalism (Andrews 61). But this novel will be remained opened to readers for discovering more themes and topics, so that my reading of the novel will focus on the role of the South African black woman in the family and her suffering during the first half of twentieth century. In this novel, Paton gives a clear picture about the suffering of the woman, showing how the mother, sister, wife and daughter are the victim of disintegration of black family and customs of the community.

Throughout the novel, Cry, the Beloved Country, many familiar symbols of masculine power are used to highlight the influence and control of the man. For example, possession, sport and sexual freedom are also used as symbols of masculine power which serve to perpetuate paternal narratives (160). Moreover, Paton did not give clear role for the South African woman in struggling for freedom from oppression, for her rights and so on.

It is right that Paton did not ignore the woman in this novel but in her role as a domestic one; it included child rearing and serving her husband. In comparison between white and black woman, we found the black woman is more marginalized. So in this paper, I focus on the role of the South African black woman in the family and her suffering during the first half of twentieth century.

Alan Paton

Alan Stewart Paton was born on January 11, 1903 in Pietermaritzburg, Natal, in the east of South Africa. During his youth, Paton suffered physical mistreatment from his father which later shaped his views on corporal punishment. Also influential during his formative years was his study of literature, reading Dickens and Walter Scott, as well as his study of the Bible. During 1946 Paton travelled through Europe, Canada, and America studying penal institutions—it was during this time that he began and finished his best-known work, Cry, the Beloved Country (Bloom 3).

Black woman in Cry, the Beloved Country

In 1910, Union of South Africa was formed by the two dominant white groups (Afrikaners and British). The Union strengthened the grip of the white man and “from this union emerged one of the most pervasive systems of racial separation in the twentieth century” (Moss, and Valestuk 25).Soon after the foundation of the Union of South Africa, many of the racial actswere legislated by the white governments, these racial acts led to marginalization of the black community. In that time, the theme of racial dominated the writers in South Africa. The novel,Cry, the Beloved Country, was one of novel discussed this problem.

Cry, the Beloved Country was first published in the United States in 1948, it gives a clear picture of how the natives are discriminated, humiliated, marginalized and segregated. Moreover, this novel gave a picture about the situation of the black woman in South Africa where the responsibility is not only on the authority but also on the society according to the novel.

When Alan Paton’s novel, Cry, the Beloved Country was first published, the literary image of Africa was controlled by a small number of expatriate writers who had spent brief periods of time in Africa and later written about their experiences there. Paton’s novel, Cry, the Beloved Country, was written by someone who had been born and raised in South Africa, so that the novel was greeted as something new and different (Bloom 3).

The beginning of the novel, cry, the beloved country, showed Stephen Kumalo and a girl, who had brought a letter. Kumalo asked the girl, who was hungry; to go to the kitchen if there is food. Here, the girl represents the children who are suffering starvation in Ndotcheni, where the ground does not feed them. Starvation was one of the problems which made men leave to Johannesburg looking for work in mines, and then the women remain to care their children in such circumstances.

In his novel, Paton gives the reader the perfect perspective in learning about the injustices that have taken place in South Africa during the racial discrimination period, and he refers to the bitter experiences and hardships the blacks went through then.

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Throughout the novel, Cry, the Beloved Country, many familiar symbols of masculine power were used to highlight the influence and control of the man. For example, possession, sport and sexual freedom were used as symbols of masculine power which served to perpetuate paternal narratives (Andrews 160).

During the period of racial segregation in South Africa, the black woman was marginalized in her marginalized community. She became the victim of the racial segregation and, moreover, she was the victim of her society’s customs. The novel, Cry, the Beloved Country, introduced a lot of examples about the suffering and marginalizing of the black women in South Africa. When the black community (man and woman) became the victim of the racial acts of the white governments in the first half of the twentieth century, the black woman also was the victim of the customs of her society.

While, the conditions forced a lot of men to left their wives and go to Johannesburg working in mines, some of them did not come back that there is no choice for women other than looking for their husbands or live with their children in poverty and misery. Gertrude was one of the black women who went with her child to Johannesburg looking for her husband, but she did not find him that she was enforced to help that woman in her trading.

Suffering of the Black Woman

Suffering is a painful human experience. It does not refer to the problems, pains, and difficulties with which we can and should deal successfully. It involves threats that constitute the alienation of our being.Early in the West, suffering has been associated with the concept of justice. Thus, suffering would be as result from a human violation of the paranormal order or a divine response to such a violation (Van Hooft 14) By reading the novel, Cry, the Beloved Country, we discovered how the black woman lived after losing her husband, her father, her child and so on.

In this novel, we knew about the black women who lost her husband, son and father. It told us about the story of Gertrude who lost her husband-her husband went to Johannesburg and did not return. Gertrude with her child went to Johannesburg searing for her husband and she did not come back. Kumaloꞌ s wife lost her son who went to Johannesburg searching for his aunt, Gertrude, and he also did not come back or write. Moreover, we knew about the story of the girl who married Absolom lost. The girl lost her father, her brothers, and her mother because she could not understand her second father. Then she had left Alexandra and went to live in Sophiatown with Kumaloꞌ s son (Absolom) after she had lived with other two.

Paton, in this novel, gave a clear picture about the suffering of the black woman that was affected by the social situations and how she was marginalized in marginalized society during the time of racial segregation in South Africa. In the second chapter, Paton told us about Kumalo’s wife:

Then she sat down at his table, and put her head on it, and was silent, with the patient suffering of the black women, with the suffering of oxen, with the suffering of any that are mute (Patan 40). It is known that Mrs. Kumalo, who has lost her son, played the role of serving her husband like any woman in South Africa. And when Mrs. Kumalo was hurt by her husband’s angry words, she sat down silent at her husband’s table. No matter what the circumstances, she was like the other black women in South Africa who suffer silence.

Moreover, Paton in his novel referred to the suffering of to the black woman from slavery, on page 42 and 43 we knew about Sibeko’s daughter who worked as servant for white man uSmith in Ixopo. And when the daughter of uSmith married, she went to Johannesburg, and she took Sibeko’s daughter with her to work. Here, Sibeko’s daughter resembled the black girl who was forced by circumstances to work as a servant in a white house.

On the other hand, the disintegration of black family and the poverty lead to the immoral situation of black women in South Africa, since a lot of husbands left their wives without care and money; therefore they turn to be prostitutes in order to have money to feed themselves and their children (Metouri 32). Gertrude’s husband left his wife with her child and did not return that Gertrude was forced to travel to Johannesburg looking for her husband; when Gertrude arrived with her child to Johannesburg, she did not find her husband. So that Gertrude was forced to stay with that woman whom helped with her trade because she had not money. When her brother met her, he asked, why did she do that? Gertrude replied: “I had to have money for the child” (Paton 28). Here, Gertrude views herself with no authority for changing those circumstances that compelled her to help that woman in liquor trading, and she became as prostitute.

Similarly, the girl, who finally married Absolom, was a victim of the disintegration of black family. The girl left Alexandra and lived in Sophiatown with strange boys because her father left her and she could not understand the second father. When Kumalo wanted to know about her problem, the girl clarified that her “father left my mother, umfundisi. And my second father I could not understand” (145).

Paton referred to an important aspect during racial segregation period which is the separation between whites and black in health care. The biggest hospital in Johannesburg for whites but blacks go to their small hospital in which the patients sleep so close on the floor (67).

In his novel, Paton referred to an important aspect during racial segregation period which is the separation between whites and black in health care. John Kumalo talked to his brother thatthe biggest hospital in Johannesburg for whites but blacks go to their small hospital in which the patients sleep so close on the floor (67). Also, Paton told us about the lack of health care in some “reserves” where a lot of black women suffered for their children’s pain, and how the mother suffered when she sow the death of her child in her lap.

On this subject, we read in the novel about the suffering of black mother who her child is ill. In Shanty Town where the cold wind comes to the shack there is a child coughs, he coughs badly, and he has high fever; the mother says, Quietly, to her child, and because there is no health care in the marginalized areas, and the poverty of the black family did not help them to bring him medicine. There was no choice with the mother more than asked the mercy from God, from Christ that means she is Christian, and the mercy from the white man who has the power and money in South Africa (89).

Here, the writer draws the attention of the reader to the suffering and sadness of the black mothers in general, that Paton adds: “Such is the nature of woman. Such is the lot of women, to carry, to bear, to watch, and to lose” (90)

Conclusion

The novel, Cry, the Beloved Country, gave a clear picture about the suffering of the black woman in South Africa. Paton in this novel concentrated on the racial segregation in South Africa and its effects on the black community in which the woman is a victim. Racial segregation in South Africa not only effected on the political but on all the life in South Africa. According to the novel, the black woman was marginalized in her marginalized community during the period of racial segregation in South Africa.

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