Examining The Multiculturalism of South Africa in Cry, The Beloved Country

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Many countries all around the world exhibit numerous different cultures. Some countries possess cultures that provide unity and upbringing, while other countries’ cultures exploit diversity and tragedies. However, with the concept of multiculturalism, the differences of cultural or ethnic groups within a country are able to be permitted and respected. Significant traits such as politics, race, religion, and setting dominate the concept of multiculturalism in the world today. Multiculturalism is very common within the boundaries of the country of South Africa. In fact, Alan Paton goes into detail about how the traits of multiculturalism play a crucial role in South Africa’s multicultural background through his novel, Cry, the Beloved Country. Race is deeply and professionally examined within the country of South Africa in Paton’s novel. Gender role and religion are also discussed in the novel. All three of these traits could not be described without the significance of the setting in this novel. In Alan Paton’s Cry, the Beloved Country, the concept of multiculturalism in South Africa is more understood from the novel’s discussion of race, gender role, religion, and setting.

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Race is a vital piece of South Africa’s multiculturalism. Paton’s Cry, the Beloved Country is constructed around the concept of race. First of all, the centerpiece of the novel itself is about a Zulu priest who searches for his son who is convicted of murdering a white male. So, it can be inferred right off the bat that from the central plot of the novel, racial injustice is a common South African problem in the country’s everyday life. Secondly, Alan Paton is a South African author who is known for specializing his writing in apartheid. According to an article from SAHO, Paton “has been credited with stimulating awareness of apartheid abroad”. This serves as proof that Paton has experience and specializes in South African racism. Lastly, this novel was published the same year when apartheid was introduced to South Africa. That year was 1948. According to a separate article written from SAHO, “apartheid was the ideology supported by the National Party government and was introduced in South Africa in 1948”. This shows evidence that race is a main part of Paton’s novel because of the significant time in which the novel is written. Through Paton’s novel, race foreshadows the importance of South Africa’s multiculturalism.

Paton’s novel itself provides a couple of quotes regarding racism as well. Paton describes a quote in his novel, and it is almost described to the point where the reader may feel like South Africans are used to race being a problem in their country. Paton states, “Kumalo climbed into the carriage for non-Europeans, already full of the humbler people of his race, some with strange assortments of European garments, some with blankets over their strange assortment, some with blankets over the semi-nudity of their primitive dress…”. This quote almost forces the reader to feel as if racism is just an ordinary ordeal in South Africa. In fact, it seems ordinary enough to the point where the reader may sense that it is normal enough to where it might actually be allowed and respected within the country, creating an atmosphere of multiculturalism.

To accompany Paton’s quote, he also mentions another lengthy quote about race. In chapter ten, Paton mentions how white nurses are more committed to training than black nurses. However, at the end of the paragraph, Paton mentions, “But our friends stood firm, and they will train there until we have a place of our own.” This quote displays that instead of the two races arguing amongst each other about training, the blacks decide to work with the whites, as it states that the two races contain friends within the opposite skin color. Both of these quotes tie together because it proves that multiculturalism is developed from opposite races cooperating with each other instead of forming heated arguments with each other. Thus, it is proven that race is a vital part of South Africa’s multiculturalism. However, in Cry, the Beloved Country, the racial concepts are inconsistent to the real-life aspects of race in South Africa because Paton writes about racial cooperation while apartheid exists in the real world of South African cultures. However, the plot of the novel involves racial injustice, therefore comparisons between the book and real-life deem inconsistent.

Along with race, gender role is crucial when it comes to the multiculturalism of the country of South Africa. Both genders present numerous differences within South African cultures. Men and women are very diverse when it comes to performing objectives. In South Africa, women have to endure a great amount of suffering. In fact, “30% of African and 26% of all households are headed by women - this usually means that there is no man contributing to the family income”. This statistic shows that a good chunk of South African women has to carry their respective families on their shoulders. Also, men in South Africa get paid significantly higher than women in the country. Even when men and women have the same jobs, men still get paid more than the women in most cases. Another example of the scrutiny that women have to go through is the fact that most women receive less sleep and leisure time than men, and most poor women work “almost twice as many hours per day as their male partners”. It can most definitely be argued that women receive unfair treatment in South Africa. All of the pain that women have to go through relates well in Paton’s Cry, the Beloved Country.

In the novel, a quote is provided to show how accurate Paton describes gender role to the real-world in South Africa. Very similar to reality, women in the novel are forced to endure overwhelming suffering. They are also forced to suffer in a silent manner as well. In the novel, Paton writes, “God save this piece of Africa that is my own, delivered in travail from my body, fed from my breast, loved by my heart, because that is the nature of women.” This quote is from a mother of an infant child who is suffering through impoverished conditions in her life. As stated in the quotation, it can be concluded that the poor woman is crying out to God because that is the only way she can let her emotions out. She cannot release her feelings of suffering any other way because of context of the book – woman has to suffer quietly. In Cry, the Beloved Country, it is vividly shown how women have to deal with tough consequences in both the novel and in real-life.

The last significant area of criteria for South Africa’s multiculturalism is the country’s different types of religion. There are several types of religions in which different South Africans are a member of. These religions include Buddhists, Christians, Folk Religions, Hindus, Jews, and Muslims. There is a wide variety of religions in South Africa, but only one religion is worth mentioning. According to Global Religious Futures, Christians accounted for 81.2% of the country’s population in 2010, while each other listed religion accounted for less than 1% of the population. The second highest percentage was 14.9%, which accounted for the unaffiliated ones. In 2020, the percentages are projected to roughly be the same. This data serves to show the Christian dominance in South Africa. Most Christians in South Africa are linked to each other and do not affiliate themselves with any other religion. According to a peer-reviewed journal article written by Tessa Freeman, a major problem in South Africa is that Christians down there struggle to interact with other people from different religions. Because of Freeman’s statement, South Africa is a Christian-dominated country. In Cry, the Beloved Country, different religions unite the country, instead of struggling to accept each other’s differences. This produces a prime example of multiculturalism.

In Paton’s Cry, the Beloved Country, the discussion of religion provides of sense of unity and cooperation. Instead of it being a Christians versus the world atmosphere, the novel provides an atmosphere of accepting other’s differences. There are two quotes that perfectly portray how religion brings people together in Cry, the Beloved Country. In the first quote, Paton writes, “I HAVE A place for you to sleep, my friend, in the house of an old woman, a Mrs. Lithebe, who is a good member of our church. She is an Msutu, but she speaks Zulu well. She will think it an honour to have a priest in the house.” Regardless of the differences between Msutu and Zulu, religion brings both of those together in this context. This is much different than how religion is approached in reality considerations.

Another example of how religion provides a sense of being together in this novel is when the priests sit down and eat with Kumalo. Paton writes, “They went into a room where a table was laid, and there he met many priests, both white and black, and they sat down after grace and ate together.” This quote shows how religion not only brings people together, but it also shows how religion can bring different races together as well. This also adds to the inconsistency of the racial discussion in this book. Regardless, it is proven that religion unites the characters of Alan Paton’s Cry, the Beloved Country in a very unique manner. Unlike hesitation to cooperate with others, Paton shows his own way of bringing the country of South Africa together through the concept of religion.

Race, gender role, and religion would not be possible to discuss without the setting of Cry, the Beloved Country. To begin, the topic of race is deeply affected by the setting in this book. First of all, Cry, the Beloved Country was written in the late 1940’s, which was the same time frame in which apartheid was introduced to South Africa. This shows the blueprint of the story. Because of Paton’s novel being published in the late 1940’s, the likelihood is that the novel will mention something related to race. Due to the time period in which the novel was written, the racial topics that are discussed in the novel are visibly displayed because of the introduction of apartheid. Whether or not apartheid was introduced before or after the novel in 1948, it is obvious that racial segregation was a huge concern back then, causing the spark to introduce apartheid.

Secondly, gender role is also affected by the setting of Paton’s novel. The two locations in which the story takes place are Ndotsheni and Johannesburg. Ndotsheni is a fictional village while Johannesburg is the largest city in South Africa, according to Benjamin Sawe. Because Ndotsheni is not an actual village, it is difficult to conclude how gender role is affected there. However, in the city of Johannesburg, gender role can be described. According to a journal article written by Marnie Shaffer, women are in charge of household activities with not a lot of support from the males. This relates well to the stereotypical reputation of women’s roles in South Africa. Like many women in the country, women in Johannesburg carry the workload for their families. The setting in Cry, the Beloved Country matches what women mainly have to go through in South Africa.

Finally, religion in South Africa shows effect from the novel’s setting. Because the settings change in Paton’s novel, the readers are able to notice in religion changes as well. Ndotsheni and Johannesburg show a major contrast to each other. According to Andy Thompson, while in Ndotsheni, most people are very faithful and are committed to belonging to a church. On the other hand, in Johannesburg, most people are known for drifting from their faith. Even though the two locations in Paton’s novel are opposite faith-wise, the settings are shown to provide the reader how religion affects both of these settings. In this novel, religion brings the South African people together. Although the two settings contrast, religion in this story proves how the people can come together. It is easier to infer this about Ndotsheni since people located there in the story have close ties to their respective religion. Because the people of Ndotsheni are closely tied to their religions, it is easier to bring people together when religion is discussed. Cry, the Beloved Country creates a very unique religious environment because of the story’s setting.

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In Alan Paton’s Cry, the Beloved Country, Paton’s comparison between his novel and reality in South Africa wavers. When it comes to race, it compares and contrasts because Paton mentions cooperation of racism, but at the same time, the plot follows a theme of racial injustice. Therefore, comparisons as well as contrasts are present on the racial side of South Africa and the novel. Opposing the inconsistency with race, gender role is accurately described by Paton, comparing it to the real-world of South African life. In both the novel and reality, many women face a life full of trials and tribulations. Women are mostly responsible for what occurs in their families and households, and women also have to endure a great amount of suffering. Lastly, religion in the novel is more on the opposite side of what takes place in real-life. Although South Africans in reality are hesitant to go out and interact with others affiliated with other religions, the novel shows readers how religion brings people together. With all of this being said, it is shown that Cry, the Beloved Country is a novel in which some parts are accurate with reality considerations while other aspects are opposed to those considerations. At the end of the day, South Africa is a country that needs improvement amongst its people. Alan Paton’s Cry, the Beloved Country could be a great source to seek improvement in South Africa.

Works Cited

  • “A History of Apartheid in South Africa.” South African History Online, 6 May 2016,
  • “Alan Stewart Paton.” South African History Online, 24 Aug. 2011,
  • Freeman, Tessa. “Chapter 6: Theology of Religions: Models for Interreligious Dialogue in South Africa.” Hervormde Teologiese Studies, vol. 73, 2017, pp. 148–214. Academic Search Complete,
  • “Gender and Development.” Education Training Unit,
  • Paton, Alan. Cry, the Beloved Country. SCRIBNER, 1948.
  • “Religions in South Africa | PEW-GRF.” Global Religious Futures,®ion_name=All Countries&restrictions_year=2016.
  • Shaffer, Marnie. “Gender Dynamics and Women’s Changing Roles in Johannesburg’s Somali Community.” St Antony's International Review, vol. 9, no. 1, May 2013, pp. 33–52. JSTOR,
  • Sawe, Benjamin Elisha. “Biggest Cities In South Africa.” WorldAtlas, 26 Mar. 2019,
  • Thompson, Andy. “Difference of Johannesburg and Ndotsheni.” Difference of Johannesburg and Ndotsheni, Andy Thompson English Blog, 21 Jan. 2018,
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Examining The Multiculturalism Of South Africa In Cry, The Beloved Country. (2021, August 06). GradesFixer. Retrieved October 1, 2023, from
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