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Setting in Cry the Beloved Country Essay


The valley of Ndotsheni's missing demographic, buildings in disrepair, dying children, and dying land stands in stark contrast with Johannesburg. The buildings of Johannesburg have heights beyond description, its bustling populace has no missing element, and its wealth keeps it moving forward instead of passively awaiting death. At least, this is the ostensible perception, from looking without seeing. For, what is the foundation of the wealth of Johannesburg but the work of unskilled natives? Is this instability of wealth not unlike the wealth of cattle in Ndotsheni, where what they consider to be wealth eats away at the land until it has nothing left to give, and will the continuation of leaving the natives to remain unskilled not also ruin the land(or the people)? The mines keep gold flowing into South Africa, but the mines are tearing South Africa apart.

The valley of Ndotsheni has the earth laid bear, whereas Johannesburg covers it with endless streets and buildings and lights and cars and people. Though the wound is blatant in Ndotsheni, the earth's blood running red through soil that cannot keep the rain, the wound in Johannesburg lays hidden in the hearts of its denizens. The thunderous voice of John Kumalo preludes the storm that is to come over Johannesburg through the new generation of radically thinking young men and women who want to throw off the old oppression. The wound is blatant in Ndotsheni because segregation is blatant there: the white farmers live up on the hills overlooking the valley, the hills whose soil is covered with green, matted grass and whose "beauty is beyond any singing of it." The young men and women of the valley of Ndotsheni leave because the barren red land cannot hold them any longer and thus Johannesburg is viewed as a place of promise, a fresh start. But, no one comes back from Johannesburg.

Johannesburg is portrayed as a corrupting city of power, where the air is held taut with the tension of racial prejudices. These prejudices are not held merely as one race against the other, but intra-racially as well. In Johannesburg you may listen to orators amidst the public, decrying the present conditions through conflicting opinions. The opinions held by the people of Johannesburg are not mutually exclusive. Dubula, the courage of the three, can be seen convincing those around him to boycott the busses, and many white men offer rides to the weary travelers. In Ndotsheni, there is rarely such mixing, as the white farmers stay on their fertile patches of soil. However, near the end we see James Jarvis offer help to the valley of Ndotsheni, which gives hope that perhaps differences in skin pigment can be reconciled. James Jarvis and Stephen Kumalo reside in Ndotsheni, and their sons meet their deaths in Johannesburg. Though this would apparently make Johannesburg a symbol of destruction, tearing apart families and murdering innocent youths, it also made possible new life in Ndotsheni.James Jarvis never would have known of his son's work had his son not been murdered by Absalom Kumalo, and thus it is likely he would not have given his aid in restoring Ndotsheni. Thus, though in the novel Johannesburg may seem to characterize corruption, it serves as a seed for new life and its effects travel far.

Johannesburg often leads its native inhabitants astray, but this only fuels those working for the natives' cause. The white inhabitants live in fear as crime goes up, and thus their desperation increases and it seems they may find themselves to blame. Thus, Johannesburg serves as a pool of new ideas for the youth that has come from Ndotsheni and other valleys to become aware of the prejudices they and their families are subject to, and in this way Johannesburg is the means for progress that Ndotsheni cannot be.

Ndotsheni serves as the place for its children to be raised in an innocent environment, away from the hectic, political life of the city, in a religious and family-oriented home. However, Johannesburg is a necessary element in that it educates young men and women through experience with injustice, and this fuels their desires for equality.

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