Cry, the Beloved Country, a book by Alan Paton, deals with the thematic struggle of South Africa and the oppression of blacks. In it, a black parson, Stephan Kumalo, goes on a journey to find his family. Everyday holds new fear, not only for Stephan, but also for everyone in South Africa. Each character in Cry, the Beloved Country has a fear of something, and that fear proves to be an influential force in all of their lives. Stephan Kumalo has a fear of the unknown, John Kumalo has a fear of oppression, and Gertrude and Absalom have a fear of death. These fears are the driving forces of Paton's characters.
Stephan Kumalo's fear of the unknown leads him on a journey to find his family in the city of Johannesburg and its surrounding townships. He receives a letter from Johannesburg, where most of his family resides now.
He is afraid to open the letter because he has not heard from any of his family in a very long time, and he does not know what to expect. Kumalo thinks that it could be either good news or bad news, but he feels that the letter is probably bad news, since it would be highly unusual for them to write. This fear of the unknown, the unexplored almost drove Kumalo to not open the letter. This would have changed the whole course of his life; he would not find out about his ailing sister, and therefore not find his son. This is one example of how fear affects the lives of Paton's characters in South Africa.
The apartheid system instills fear in all people, the fear of being oppressed, and John Kumalo is truly affected by this fear. Although John is comfortable in Johannesburg under the laws and regulations there, he is still fearful of oppression. He says to Stephan at their first meeting that in Johannesburg, he does not have to follow the chief's inane orders. In Johannesburg, he has power. And yes, he does have power, to an extent. When in the town square, preaching to a group of black people, John has the power to get the crowd worked up, but desists the idea, as white policeman are nearby. "Here is the moment for words of passion"ÃÂ¦ words that can waken and madden and unleash. But he knows. He knows the great power that he has, the power of which he is afraid. And the voice dies away"ÃÂ¦"ÃÂ (219). John Kumalo is afraid of his power to lead people and cause revolt, because he knows the consequences that he would face for such an offense would be severe. In addition, John Kumalo is alerted to the fact that people have heard the things he has said inside his shop, things about rebellion and overpowering the whites. John fears that if the whites have heard these things that he will suffer greatly for trying to instill these ideas in the people of South Africa.
Another fear that influences characters in Paton's book is the fear of death, along with the instinct to survive. This fear forces Gertrude, Stephan Kumalo's sister, into the lowly job of prostitution. Life in Johannesburg is not easy. There is much crime, and one must be able to look out for one's self. Being a black woman, Gertrude has few other options. She could try to become a servant for a white family, or a worker in the mines. However, her chances at these jobs are slim to none. She could revert to stealing, but she is afraid of being caught and suffering the awful consequences enforced by the apartheid system. Therefore, Gertrude's prostitution seems more of an instinctual move for survival, rather than an avoidance of the fear of death. Nevertheless, Gertrude is afraid of death, and she knows that she does not want to die. She sees that her only option is prostitution, and she sticks to it.
Absalom demonstrates this same fear of death when he commits a crime. People tell Absalom that Johannesburg is a dangerous place. Because of this piece of advice, he carries a revolver around with him, to keep him safe. If Absalom was not afraid, he probably would not be carrying around a gun. Another case of Absalom's fear appears when he commits the murder of Mr. Arthur Jarvis. He claims to the court that he shot Arthur Jarvis because he was afraid, and that he did not mean to shoot him. Was this a clear-cut case of self-defense, or was Absalom afraid that he might get caught stealing and subsequently suffer the consequences? Who knows what Absalom was thinking, but one thing is clear; he shot Mr. Arthur Jarvis out of fear.
Fear is a major influence on the lives of all characters in Alan Paton's book, Cry the Beloved Country. Stephan Kumalo has a fear of the unknown, while his brother has a fear of oppression. Both Gertrude and Absalom have a fear of death coupled with the instinct to survive. These are the driving forces for Paton's characters. These fears do exist only in Paton's book, but in real life as well. Everyday, people in South Africa are afraid of being robbed or being killed or suffering. This fear is a result of the apartheid system, and fear will reign supreme until the system has been abolished.