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The novel CRY, THE BELOVED COUNTRY finds its center in the beliefs of Christianity. Therefore its answers for philosophical, political, and sociological problems are always, in some sense, Christian. The plot of the novel is a reworking of the Old Testaments story of King David and his lost son Absalom. The most important relationships in the novel are those between man and God. It is the familiar structure, inherent in Christianity that provides man with a place and an understanding of this place. Paton believes that one attains fulfillment only through a connection with society, family and ultimately, God.
Paton s cry for love, trust, and peace and the annihilation of hate, fear, and conflict, can only be heard by those who understand and champion the relationships inherent in both immediate and religious family. Thus, only when an individual is fulfilled can they hope to rebuild another and eventually an entire culture. Paton shows distinct parallels in the two main father / son relationships of Stephen and Absalom Kumalo and James and Arthur Jarvis. In this way he shows the struggle for fulfillment is universal, we are all lacking in the same ways in Gods eyes.
The additional father / son relationships in the novel include those of John and Matthew Kumalo and Col. and John Harrison. Each of these father / son relationships offers an illustration of the conflict between generations and the legacy of the interaction of familial and societal forces. There are many religious overtones inherent in the relationship of Stephen and Absalom Kumalo. The story of Absalom and Stephen Kumalo has much to do with forgiveness and the re-establishment of familial ties. In fact, the Christian values of faith and forgiveness are nearly lost by both Absalom and Stephen.
We see Stephen, a minister, question his faith repeatedly. It seems that God has turned from me. There is no prayer left in me. It is the strength of their relationship that enables each to find acceptance and ultimately, peace.
When Absalom leaves home for Johannesburg he embodies a Christian upbringing. However, like so many of those have left the valley before him, he is soon swallowed up in the teeming inhumanity of the city. Absalom is, in many ways, a victim. He is too young to be left in the shantytown without guidance or familial ties of any sort. In fact, Absalom loses his very humanity in this city, and like many others leads a thoughtless animal-like existence. Christian love is replaced by fear in his new environment, and Absalom becomes only a reactive being.
Thus the senseless and accidental shooting of Arthur Jarvis is made clear, blind animal fear motivated Absalom to kill Jarvis. This incident leaves both Stephen and Absalom shattered. When Stephen first sees Absalom in jail, he is struck by a shell of a man who was once his son. Absalom s hand is cold and lifeless toward Stephen; there is no bond between them. Stephen is angered by the passivity of his son. He cannot understand why Absalom shows little emotion, and he especially cannot forgive Absalom s apparent lack of remorse.
He is a stranger he said, I cannot touch him, I cannot reach him. I see no shame in him, no pity for those he has hurt. Tears come out of his eyes, but it seems he weeps only for himself, not for his wickedness, but for his danger. At the same time, fear and shame consume Absalom. The relationship between father and son is all but severed, for both are dulled by the enormity of the situation, and both are at despair.
The savior of the relationship is the unborn son, in it they have a common interest and a hope. They name the child Peter. Peter after St. Peter, the founder of the Christian church, he is the future of Africa and through a continent can be saved, as white and black people are eternally tied to him.
By the time of Absalom s marriage, the relationship of father and son has gradually mended. Stephen learns to forgive Absalom, and Absalom is able to rely on his father to sustain him in his fear. Absalom is finally able to acknowledge his own guilt and forgive himself; ultimately, Absalom s dignity and humanity are restored. Stephen, like James Jarvis, will carry out part of the legacy he learned by way of his son s experience. If a new generation is composed of men like Jarvis grandson (the bright one) and Stephen s grandson, Peter, there is hope for the spiritual evolution of mankind. Arthur Jarvis can be seen as a Messiah because he is sacrificed during his quest for the betterment of mankind.
Indeed, Arthur appears to have modeled his life on men of vision (Christ, Lincoln), leaders who displayed concern not only for upright men but also for sinners and enemies. Though one might discover many Christian lessons in the story of Arthur and James, it is primarily an illustration of the son as father. Both fathers, James and Stephen, are initially ignorant of Johannesburg and all it stands for. Neither man comprehends the spiritual and moral decay of his beloved country until he is confronted personally with it, through the death of his son.
Both men lose their sons, but gain, as a result, a clearer vision of the world and their responsibilities toward the world; both men develop a more active and charitable view toward the universal man. The relationship between Arthur and his father, James, is in many ways ironic. James must lose Arthur before he can gain a true knowledge of him. It is only through Arthur s death that James can be led to discover and embrace his son s philosophy. The spirit of Arthur is essentially conveyed to James through his writings.
We learn that while interpersonal communication failed to unite father and son, Arthur s public declaration of beliefs (in speeches read by his father) enabled a personal understanding, acceptance and pride to develop. It is perhaps important to note that James needed to accept Arthur as a man before he could entirely embrace him as a son. One of the questions that James asks himself and his wife repeatedly is Where did Arthur learn to become what he was? It is ironic that James is unable to attribute any of Arthur s achievements to his own parenting, for we see much of James in Arthur. It is clear that the basic foundation of Arthur s beliefs were learned at home. This explains why James never contemplates revenge for the death of his son and why he is immediately ready to learn about his country and broaden his acts of kindness.
Thus, during the course of the novel, we see the further development of James, the man, rather than the redeeming of a soul. James has always understood the dignity of mankind; his treatment of Stephen (and eventually all of Stephen s people) is intuitive rather than learned. By the end of the book James and Arthur are truly united. James carries on the spirit of his son through works of generosity and thoughtfulness.
Because of Arthur s legacy, James familial concern is no longer limited, but belongs to all of mankind. The father / son relationships discussed above seem to illustrate a basic tenet needed for the ideal father / son relationship. That is, that fathers and sons must ultimately regard one another as brothers whom must learn from one another. It is important to note that Paton s vision primarily suggests that men must forever see themselves as sons of God. The adoption of and adherence to Christian values enables these sons to do good works and embrace the brotherhood of mankind. The secret that Stephen so often speaks of during the course of the novel is in part delineated through the metaphor of family.
Paton states that only love will save the land and the people of South Africa. The primal love of a father for a son must be built upon and enlarged to insure the continuance and re-emergence of Christian order and in time South Africa. 336
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