Cry The Beloved Country (Bloom’s Modern Critical Interpretations)
Cry, the Beloved Country (1948) is a humane period piece but not at all a permanent narrative fiction. I first (and, until now, last) read it when it was published and I was eighteen. More than sixty years later, I have gotten through it again but only just. Its humane sentiments remain admirable but
in themselves do not constitute an aesthetic achievement. Clearly, I prefer a decently liberal period piece to, say, Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead, a period piece that prophesied the emancipation of selfishness
by Ronald Reagan and the oligarchic plutocracy that the United States metamorphosed into under George W. Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Ashcroft, and their cohorts. My heart is with Alan Paton but not my long lifetime of sustained reading of the best that has been written. It isn’t so much that Paton is not Faulkner
but that he evades any authorial identity. The Hasidic rabbi Zusya observed that the Recording Angel would say to him: “Zusya, I do not ask why you were not Moses, but why did you fail to become Zusya?” The black Anglican priest Stephen Kumalo, need not have become Desmond Tutu, but he attains no individuality of his own. Paton assures us that Kumalo is a spiritual guide, a Zulu hero of the devotional quest, but we are not shown Kumalo. At the novel’s close, Kumalo is meant to represent God the Father, a rather difficult role to represent. Religion becomes religiosity when sentiment goes beyond an author’s
power of rhetoric and of mimesis. What Paton wanted to write would have been admirable, except that novels are written through by Tolstoy and George Eliot, Flaubert and Faulkner, Chinua Achebe and Jose Saramago. Cry, the Beloved Country has wonderful intentions but minimal characterization and altogether unsurprising narrative development, as artless as it is benign.