Literature Review: the concept of ‘spaces’ – a study of Paton’s Cry the beloved country.

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Compiled By Nyasha Nyikadzino and Florence Madzikatire

This article is premised on the South African space and how the author, Alan Paton is answering to this set up. This is literature review : the concept of spaces- a study of Paton’s cry the beloved country. Firstly the term space is going to be defined followed by a brief history of the country south Africa and what is going on during this period. Thirdly, it is going to map out the writer’s response to all the issues in as far as space is concerned. At the end of this article, the reader has to be aware of where the writer stands.

Space can be defined as the continuous expanse in which things can exist and move. This definition has two important take-away points. The first one is the aspect of existence. Something has to exist in a space and the second point is movement. Therefore space becomes the bearer of existence and movement be it towards progression or regression.

It should be noted that space in this essay is discussed in its multi-faceted aspects. Examples of these are geophysical space, which is the land itself, financial or economic space, which concerns itself with the production, distribution and consumption of goods and services. There is also the political space, the religious space the crime space, the social space as well as the educational space.

summary of the text

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.

To begin with, land is of paramount importance in the text, it is the source of livelihood to both the black and the white people of South Africa. According to some scholars like Ruby Magosvongwe(2016) land is intertwined with a peoples identity, self awareness, sustainability, history as well as the future.

Land is owned by both black and white people in the text. Mr James Jarvis owns a vast piece of land while other black people in Ndotsheni own small pieces of land. The owning of these geographical spaces is telling and critical as it highlights how the land being owned by blacks is going through desertification juxtaposed by the Whiteman’s land which is close to a river. In this case the author responds to this set up by bringing the two groups together as evidenced by Mr Jarvis’ plan to build a dam in Ndotsheni and hiring a agriculture demonstrator.

In addition, in the novel, Cry the beloved country, land is also exhibited as residential space. Claremont is described as ‘ the garbage place off the proud city’. It is where all sorts of unsightly things take place. There are high rates of unemployment and crime. This space is owned by black people who have nothing else to do but resort to these compensatory behaviors. Ownership of houses by black people is blurred as the system is biased to delay and deny them property rights leaving those rejected by the system to be denizens of shanty towns

Another space being explored in the text is the social space. Paton uses the protagonist reverend Stephen Khumalo to exhibit the social arena of South Africa. The attitude of the whites towards the black and colored people in the text is a cause for concern. The buses as well as the court are segregated according to skin pigmentation. The writer here questions the concept of justice whereby the court, a symbol of fairness sit members separately thus the idea of equality before the law is put to test. In this case, the author is seemingly advocating for impartiality.

In addition, the economic space in South Africa is owned by the whites. They are the movers and the shakers of production, distribution as well as consumption of goods and services. They determine details of finance from the next project to be undertaken to the amount of bus fares of the local common man. This is evidenced by the fact that the white people own farms and houses while the black work on the farms, guard their houses and serve.

In terms of material possessions, the whites are at an advantage. James Jarvis inherited the valley of Umuzimkulu while the residents of Ndotsheni share pieces of unfertile land. To this problem, the writer responses with a hand-up philosophy ( giving the poor and hungry person resources and tools for him to unshackle himself off) rather than a hand-out philosophy ( giving a poor and hungry person food and clothes).

Paton also responds to this monopoly of the economic space done by the white minority with radical modes such as strikes. The bus boycott is one of these ways which draws the attention to the issues at hand. John Kumalo is another tool used by the writer to expose the ills of this capitalist set up in South Africa. He speaks of the city Johannesburg being ‘built on our sweat and blood’ p37. John also speaks of the press as a ‘repress’ meaning that the information it produces is censored and biased. This press censorship is also in other texts written by authors in this era like Sipho Semapla.

The political space is another area the writer looks at with critical eyes. It should be noted that the white people are the ones who hold the political upper hand. They administer all the laws and it is evident that this space is dominated by them. This political system is selfish in nature as the writer accuses it of feeding and old man with milk pretending that one day he will grow into a boy p230. Some may argue that John Kumalo represents the blacks in as far as political issues are concerned. What the writer fear is the double standards of this man making him unfit to take up burden of political independence.

The religious arena is owned by both races. As evident in Cry the beloved country. This is a plausible scenario although John Khumalo states that the church only has a fine voice without deeds. The church is a symbol of unity in Ndotsheni. People gather and makes fellowship at reverend Khumalo’s church. Milk is distributed from there and the agriculture demonstrator Mr. Letsitsi is placed under Stephen’s care. This teacher understands the egalitarian principles as well as the results which can be attained by ‘working for Africa’ p269 together as black and white.

Moreover, there is the educational space. The concepts of education and schools is mentioned in the first in as far as Absolom is concerned. Umfundis and his wife had money set aside for the education of their son. This shows how the black people desired emancipation through education. However, the education he got was the one at the rehabilitation school. What is critical about this type of education is the fact that it produces students who are worse than what they were.

Absolom is entangled in this murder case after he has been to the school hence the author is seemingly questioning the integrity of these institutions. However, though Arthur Jarvis, the reader is therefore introduced to another form of education acquired through reading of books and research. This type of education is what Paton responds with in this multicolored society. The murdered man concerned with himself with the conditions of the natives and their accessibility to schools and hospitals.

In almost all the issues being highlighted by the writer, there is an inherent battle for space in as far as color is concerned. There is an advocacy in most of the white people in the text for a separatist kind of living. They do not want to associate themselves with the other race. This is evidenced by the conversation between Mr. Scott and Mr de Villiers whereby the latter confides that ‘we fear for not only the possessions we have but the loss of our whiteness’ p78. He goes on to say that ‘our lives will shrink but it will be lives of superior beings. Another point of view of this separatist phenomena is highlighted by Rev Theophilus Msimangu, he cries for an empowered separation ‘where the blacks can farm their own land, mine their own minerals and administer their own laws’p78.

In summation, this essay has defined and refined the term and concept of the ownership of ‘spaces’ in the novel Cry The Beloved Country By Alan Paton. It has zeroed in each individual space taking into consideration of how the writer though description, the authoritative voice as well as characters to highlight the concerns associated with these spaces. In the process, issues to do with equality, development through teamwork and empowerment surfaced.

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