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FORM AND STRUCTURE
Cry, the Beloved Country is what is called a problem or sociological novel. The social issue is racial discrimination in South Africa. Some critics even call Cry, the Beloved Country a propaganda novel, because it shows the evils of discrimination so strongly.
Another novel of this type is John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath (1939), which deals with the problems of migrant workers. Paton had been reading and thinking about The Grapes of Wrath just before he began writing Cry, the Beloved Country, and that may account for one way the books are alike in structure. Both use what are called intercalary or inserted chapters. These are chapters like 9, 12, and 23 in Cry, the Beloved Country, chapters that give you a picture of what is happening in society as a whole. They do not directly advance the plot, but skipping them would rob you of a full understanding of the setting of the story.
Another thing to notice about the structure of Cry, the Beloved Country is that it is circular. The novel begins in a rural area of Natal, moves to Johannesburg, and returns again to Ndotsheni in Natal.
Paton presents the plot and themes of his novel in a three-part structure. Book I (Chapters 1 to 17) starts off the basic plot as a search. Stephen Kumalo attempts to locate and reunite the members of his family, especially his son. The high points come when Arthur Jarvis is killed and Absalom Kumalo is arrested. The theme of tribal disintegration is stronger than the other main theme of rebuilding in Book I.
The intensity continues to build in Book II (Chapters 18 to 29). The trial progresses, intercalary chapters provide a fuller picture of social issues, and you see what happens when the two fathers meet. Some of the intercalary chapters contain as many as a dozen separate scenes, and many of them use so much dramatic dialog that they could easily be presented as brief plays. Both major themes occur in Book II, but the breakdown of the traditional order still seems to outweigh the theme of rebuilding.
Book III (Chapters 30 to 36) is the resolution, or working out, of the plot. Kumalo and Jarvis begin to cooperate to change the village of Ndotsheni. Here the stress is on rebuilding, a promise of hope for the future.