Quest for the Son and Suffering in Cry, The Beloved Country
Throughout the novel Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton, Paton uses suffering and the quest for the son together to add to the tragic framework of the novel. Paton uses suffering, an element derived from Greek tragedy in which the main protagonist(s) of the novel are subjected to hardship and pain, to enhance the experience that Kumalo and Jarvis endure in the quest for their sons. Kumalo and Jarvis’ quest for their sons contribute to the tragic framework of the novel because of the suffering that it causes. Both Kumalo and Jarvis’ quest for their sons begin with the murder of Arthur Jarvis, James Jarvis’ son, and the resulting suffering that it causes both of them. Furthermore, they both realize that their sons were total strangers to them, causing them suffering seeing them so different from who their fathers had known. Also in the quest for their sons, they both realize the suffering of the native people, causing both protagonists great suffering with their newfound knowledge.
The realization that Arthur Jarvis had been murdered is marked as the beginning of both Kumalo and Jarvis’ quest for their sons as well as their suffering. Kumalo had gone Johannesburg in search of his missing relatives: Gertrude, John and his son, Absalom. Upon arriving in the city, he finds both Gertrude and John quickly but has difficulty in finding his son. He looks to his friend Msimangu with whom he searches all of Johannesburg for the whereabouts of his son. After a long period of searching, Kumalo is finally told by the white man at the reformatory that his son had been arrested for the murder of a white man. Upon learning of the severity of his son’s crime, Kumalo “nodded his head again, one, two, three, four, times … and nodded to them again” (Paton 126). Although he did not express his suffering in a obvious way, the repeated nodding intimates the fact that he was suffering both mentally and physically. His strange behaviour is most probably because he was in shock over what his son had done. The severe shock could also be attributed to him being a preacher and a man of God who would considers murder to be the worst sin of all and finding that his own son could have done such a thing, causing him great pain both as a father and a man of God. Along with the arrest of Kumalo’s son, Jarvis also began his quest for the son after his murder. He had been at his estate in Ndotsheni when he learned of his son’s death through van Jaarsveld, telling him “He was shot dead at 1:30 P.M. this afternoon in Johannesburg” (165). Upon the conformation of his worst fears, Jarvis also experiences suffering through shock. He sits down and then is dazed when he walked down the mountain to return and tell his wife. Before the police came to inform him and his wife of his son’s death, James had been content to live and stay within the narrow, comfortable confines of his estate. After finding out about the news of their son’s death, James is forced upon an emotional and mental quest for who his son had been. Although Jarvis’ quest for the son had begun with the death of his son and Kumalo’s quest for his son had truly begun upon hearing of the imprisonment of his son for murdering a white man, this marks the beginning of the quest for their sons on a deeper, more emotional level considering that they barely knew the strangers that were their sons, and as a way to cope with their suffering
As Kumalo and Jarvis progress through the quest for their sons, they suffer due to the complete strangers that their sons had become. After all his searching for the whereabouts of his son, Kumalo had finally found him to have been imprisoned waiting for his trial. Upon having his son brought out before him, Kumalo begins questioning him:
— Why did you do this terrible thing, my child?
The young man stirs watchfully, the white warder makes no sign, perhaps he does not know this tongue. There is a moisture in the boy’s eyes, he turns his head from side to side, and makes no answer. 130)
As Kumalo continues to question his son, he realizes that the person that stood in front of him was a stranger. He had to ask his son why he would do such a thing because it differed so violently from the boy that he had raised in the ideals of Christianity. He suffers throughout the interaction with his son as he discovered a cold, unfeeling man instead of the loving young boy that he had known before. Thus, his quest for his son had ended in a physical sense considering the fact that he had found his son but, he had found a stranger occupying the body of his son with a wholly different personality than the one that he attributed to his son. Along with Kumalo’s quest of his son, Jarvis’ quest for his son continues after he arriving in Johannesburg to be received by the Harrisons, Mary’s parents. After settling down, he sat down to listen to Mr. Harrison on what happened and who his son truly was. As he sat listening “to this tale of his son” he soon realizes that he is listening to the “tale of a stranger” (172). This causes Jarvis to realize how little he knew the man that he called his son, causing him great pain as he had as a parent never seen this for himself within his son. Jarvis’ quest for his son is one that opens his eyes, spreading them past the provincial outlook he held before to one where he was able to consider the worldly and all-encompassing views that his son now shared with him. His suffering is further enhanced by the irony that his son, the man that fought for the rights of the natives, had been killed by the very people he tried to defend. Jarvis’ realization of his son being a stranger and Kumalo’s quest for his son also yielding a similar result of a stranger lead to more suffering for both of the main protagonists of the novel.
As Kumalo and Jarvis progress through the quest for their sons, Jarvis realizes through the stranger that was his son, that the natives that he had been ignorant up to that point were suffering, while Kumalo sees the full extent of his people’s suffering. Kumalo realizes through his quest for his son, that the white man broke the tribe throughout South Africa and it had been replaced with nothing. He sees as he wanders through Johannesburg, the sights of his people in shantytowns and slums and it causes him great pain. This suffering is thus imprinted in Kumalo and he strives throughout the rest of the novel to try to mend the broken tribe in any way he could. Upon arriving back at the Ndotsheni after the sentencing of his son, he continues forward with this new outlook on the condition of his people noting that the white men had “knocked these chiefs down, and put them up again, to hold the pieces together … rulers of pitiful kingdoms that had no meaning at all” (264). This causes him emotional suffering because he through the quest for the son has his ignorance wiped away, allowing him to see the system that they whites had laid out for his people and the pathetic form that the tribe had been reduced to. Along with Kumalo, Jarvis also comes to know of the suffering of the natives. He learns of this through the essays that his son had written saying, “It is not permissible to mine any gold… if such mining… depend for their success on a policy of keeping labour poor” (178). Jarvis discovers the personality of his son and the kind of things that he stood for while also learning of the condition of the natives. He realizes that the system that he had ignored for such a long time was one built on exploitation and it leads to suffering as he saw that he was a part of the system that perpetuated these problems. Seeing the world from his son’s point of view allowed him to both find out who he was while also passing the suffering and pain of know that he was part of the problem. As Kumalo and Jarvis come to the end of their quest for their sons, they discovered native suffering and the widening of their provincial viewpoints.
In Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton, Paton uses both suffering and quest for their sons to add to the tragic framework of the play. Beginning with Kumalo and Jarvis’ quest for their sons with the murder of Arthur Jarvis and its resulting suffering, Jarvis and Kumalo both realize that their sons were total strangers to them, causing them further suffering since they are the ones that should have known them most. Finally, as their quest for their sons comes to a close, they both realize the suffering of the native people, causing both protagonists great suffering with their newfound knowledge.
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