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Barron's Booknotes-Cry, The Beloved Country by Alan Paton

Table of Contents

THE STORY

AUTHOR'S NOTES AND INTRODUCTION

Cry, the Beloved Country begins with two Author's Notes and an Introduction. Part of the original Author's Note (written when Cry, the Beloved Country was first published) presents an analysis of the 1948 population of South Africa. Paton lists the major groups as Afrikaans-speaking whites, English-speaking whites, Indians, Coloureds (people of mixed ancestry), and blacks. Percentage computations based on Paton's figures show that in 1948 blacks formed approximately 59 percent of a total population of about 11 million. Whites accounted for about 30 percent of the population, with those speaking English making up less than one fourth of the whites (about 7 percent of the total population). All other groups accounted for about 11 percent of the population.

The figures are relevant because the story concentrates on one black family and one English-speaking white family. In the story, Paton doesn't keep reminding you that white English-speakers are a small minority, and that the white family may therefore not be typical of all whites. Nor does he keep saying that the problem of the black family may be multiplied in many families, since blacks form so large a part of the population. He expects you to combine population data from this note with clues in the story, and to reach your own conclusions about racial problems in South African society.

The Second Author's Note updates the population information for a later edition of the novel. It reports a total 1959 population of about 15 million, with Indian, Coloured, and black people a larger proportion of the total than in 1948.



NOTE: In 1980 the government reported that the population of South Africa was about 25 million. Some two thirds of these people were said to be black, approximately 18 percent were white, about 10 percent were Coloured (persons of mixed ancestry), and roughly 4 percent were Asian.

The bulk of the Introduction consists of several pages quoted from a speech by Alan Paton. These pages convey Paton's deep feelings for his country, and the historical facts they outline are generally accurate. However, we use some terms differently now. For instance, San and Khoikhoi are used instead of Bushmen and Hottentots; Xosa is more often spelled Xhosa; and the Anglo-Boer War is usually called the South African War.

Paton's comment that Afrikaans-speaking people are descendants of the Dutch is only partly accurate. The Dutch East India Company founded Cape Colony, but the Dutch did not settle in large numbers. Recent studies give the ethnic origins of Afrikaners as 45% German, 27% French, 22% Dutch, and 6% "other." Paton conveys very well how he thinks Afrikaners came to perceive blacks as dangerous and to fear them enough to want to establish a system of racial segregation. Some Afrikaners, however, would add religious belief as a basis for segregation. Some Afrikaners interpret passages of the Bible on the descendants of Noah's sons to mean that God wants total separation of the races, and that whites are naturally superior. Paton explains that some whites struggle with their own consciences over racial segregation. You'll find a fuller expression of this struggle later in the novel in a paper written by Arthur Jarvis.

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