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Cry, the Beloved Country is essentially a social protest novel. Its prime concern is to present the evils social apartheid and injustice. The racist attitude of the whites has caused the deconstruction of the tribal world to serve the white manís need. They have not bothered to replace the old system with a new one nor do they wish to accommodate the natives into the prosperous white world, in any capacity other than cheap labor. The natives are forced to live in less than equal conditions and this leads to frustration lawlessness and crime.
The novel presents a study of human relationship of how pain, suffering and love bring people together. Tribulations bring to Kumalo and James Jarvis awareness of life and its harsh reality, suffering plunges them in grief but gradually draw out compassion and empathy. This theme is a confirmation of the novel subtitled A story of comfort in desolation.
The contrast between the old and new generation is another theme of the novel. The reader sees the contrast blatantly in the Harrison family. The father with racist leanings is the proverbial Ďold stick in the mudí. The son is more conscientious and realizes both the white manís injustice and the black manís suffering. Kumalo and James Jarvis belong to the older generation, but unlike Mr. Harrison they donít resist change and undergo immense alteration. In the course of the novel, Kumalo bears that a change in the society can be brought about by the younger generation alone therefore he pins his hopes on his nephew and his grandchild to be born.
The relationship between man and land is also harped upon considerably. Paton reiterates that the relationship between man and land is reciprocal. The idea is demonstrated through the contrasting conditions of Ndotsheni and the land over the hill.
The mood of the novel is pensive and elegiac. The novel is an elegy dedicated to South Africa, which reels under injustice and apartheid. In a simple and lucid language, pain and human suffering are laid bare. The ambiance thus created, makes the readers empathize with the suffering of the natives and readjust their outlook towards life for a more humane one.