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The settings in Cry, the Beloved Country are more than just backdrops or pictures of the country Paton loves. They are also symbols or metaphors for the themes and events of the novel. Part of your interpretation of the novel will probably be based on how you feel about the major settings, rural Natal and urban Johannesburg.
Paton knew the area around Ndotsheni well. He taught school there when he was a young man. It is here that most of the main characters in the novel were born, and it is to here they return. It is here that hope for the next generation arises. Yet, even if this area of rural Natal is a place of rebirth, it also reflects the divisions in South African society. The uplands, reserved for whites, are lush, green, and fertile. The valley below, reserved for blacks, is dry and eroded. When it rains, the reddened earth seems to flow with blood-a powerful symbol of the losses white rule and mismanagement have brought to the black population.
Johannesburg is very different. It is big, bright, and overwhelming. It has considerable attraction for many of the characters in the novel.
Like the area around Ndotsheni, Johannesburg shows us the many divisions between blacks and whites. There are the well-kept white areas and the shabby black sections of town. But Paton does more with Johannesburg than take the reader on a tour. Take a look at the neighborhoods Kumalo visits while searching for Absalom. Would the story be as effective if Paton had rearranged the order in which they are visited? Are these parts of town picked at random or do they tell us in a symbolic way of Absalom's descent into crime?