In Cry, the Beloved Country, Alan Paton tries to highlight the similarities that tie together two different individuals, namely Stephen Kumalo and James Jarvis, on the issues of their journey through life, their connected destiny, and the differences in racial practices. James Jarvis is a grieving white man struggling to understand and appreciate his dead son’s feelings for the majority non-white population. In contrast, Stephen Kumalo is a native black man wondering when all his sorrows will come eventually to an end. The reader comes to know in between the story that his son is imprisoned for killing James Jarvis’ son.
James Jarvis and Stephen Kumalo, the two main characters, can be said to have undergone a significant change as the story progresses. James Jarvis discovers that not all people are the same; in other words, he begins to respect the black race and is proud of his son’s earnest efforts to resolve issues dealing with racism. This changes Jarvis’ outlook and approaches towards different races. He begins to learn and appreciate all people. This sudden change in his thought process can be termed simply as a mental journey. Stephen Kumalo also undergoes a different journey involving many heartbreaking and emotional aspects of his life. His journey allows him to gather from his experiences the meaning of life, and he learns to seek ‘comfort in desolation’ (which is the subtitle and main theme of the book).
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Both characters have a strong connection which coincidentally connects them and brings forward parallel stories with similar fate/destinies. Their inter-twined destiny is a common point of similarity that the author clearly expresses. It starts from basic facts, such as both come from Ndotsheni and Absalom (Stephen’s son) killed Arthur Jarvis (James’ son). The reader can remember when Stephen Kumalo tries to embrace the fate he will suffer by letting James know about his “heart’s heaviest thing of all years” (Paton 214). Guilt forces him to utter in despair, “It was my son that killed your son” (Paton 214). This simple statement is a heavy blow to James Jarvis. Here we witness the connection between these two emotional events, where one father is searching to be pleased with his son’s good deeds, whereas the other is ashamed with pure guilt over his son’s crime.
Though the reader can pinpoint several similarities between the two characters, we can see a great difference in their treatment and the way they lead their lives throughout the story. The reader can see the great journey to Johannesburg taken by Stephen Kumalo; however, very little information is given about James’ journey to Johannesburg. The reader only hears the police officer stated, “Mr. Jarvis, I am instructed to offer you every assistance” (Paton 166). As the police officers, Mr. Harrison, many white members do not look up to Stephen Kumalo as he is black; however, James Jarvis does not face this awkward situation. Even though both share many similarities, one is black, and the other is white, making the racial differences in the story more apparent.
Though the author draws parallels between both the characters, there is a striking similarity even in the differences. Throughout the story, all characters (whether black or white) echo the author’s words about the desired peace and harmony that all South Africans should achieve. Readers can remember the sayings of Rev. Msimangu when he states that his greatest fear is when the whites have started loving, the blacks would have started hating. The author is keen on suggesting love between inter-racial groups. He does this by pointing out racial differences and their effect on lives. These little journeys through life affect the thinking of man and make him change. Some examples are James Jarvis and Stephen Kumalo. James Emman Kwegyir Aggrey, a Ghanaian educator, has famously quoted, “You can play a tune of sorts on the white keys, and you can play a tune of sorts on the black keys, but for harmony, you must use both the black and the white” (Aggrey of Africa).