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

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STYLE

In some ways Paton is a very realistic writer. He is dealing with things he has experienced in his own life, and he is able to describe people, cities, landscapes, and events in a factual way.

Paton occasionally uses symbols. Some of the names that may be symbolic are discussed in a note within Chapter 2 in The Story section of this guidebook. Sometimes a meal is presented almost as a communion service, and the titihoya bird seems to be a symbol for the land itself. The titihoya has deserted the barren land around Ndotsheni, but still cries on the rich farms upland. Its cry is an appeal to the people to love and care for the land. Some readers see symbolic value in mountains and uplands as good places, and valleys as places of moral decay, but others feel it's stretching a point to accept that interpretation. (Consider the fact that Johannesburg is at a higher elevation than Ixopo.)

What is remarkable about Paton's style is the fresh sound of his language. On the first page you will probably notice that the main style does not follow patterns of written and spoken English to which you are accustomed. In contrast, the more common patterns of English, used principally in the novel when a white man is thinking or speaking, (1) sound harsh and to the point, (2) involve a vocabulary that includes slang, and (3) are more complicated than Paton's main style.



The special style Paton invented for this book involves very simple vocabulary, and makes use of biblical patterns as well as those of Zulu and other Bantu languages. This style includes (1) symbols so natural that we hardly think of them as symbols, such as light and darkness; (2) short clauses connected by but or and; and (3) repetition. Parallel statements often say the same thing twice in slightly different words. This primary style is used to represent speech or thoughts "translated" from Zulu and to give comments from the omniscient narrator.

Both styles can be seen in Chapter 22 where the prosecutor's style of speech contrasts with Absalom's. After a while, though, even the prosecutor begins to fall into Absalom's simpler speech patterns. The more common English style shows up best in conversations of white men. For example, Harrison says this to Jarvis: "They get good balanced food, far better than they'd ever get at home, free medical attention, and God knows what. I tell you, Jarvis, if mining costs go up much more there won't be any mines." You may or may not agree with Harrison, but the points are so clearly presented that you don't have to think to know what is meant.

The main style, the Zulu-biblical one, appears in lines like these: "The great valley of the Umzimkulu is still in darkness, but the light will come there. Ndotsheni is still in darkness, but the light will come there also." Other good examples occur in the scene between Kumalo and Jarvis at the Smith house, when both are speaking Zulu. For instance, Jarvis says, "I have heard you. I understand what I did not understand. There is no anger in me." This style demands more of the reader. It's up to you to recall all earlier evidence and deduce just what it is that Jarvis understands.

You will probably respond to Paton's heavy use of his understated Zulu-biblical style with considerable emotion. To get a better feel for Paton's language, it might help to formulate an observation in two ways. For example, Paton could have written a sentence like this, in ordinary English: "The rounded green hills are too pretty for words." Instead he wrote this: "These hills are grass-covered and rolling, and they are lovely beyond any singing of it." Most of you will feel a kind of inner ache at the beauty of that sentence. The style lifts descriptions and events above the ordinary, and may lead you to feel a kind of reverence usually reserved for the Bible itself.

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