While not entirely a self-portrait, the character Arthur Jarvis in Cry, the Beloved Country is accorded some of Alan Paton's particular interests and social outlook. Paton wrote widely on crime and enjoyed bird watching. Arthur Jarvis' writings include: "The Truth About Native Crime" and "Birds in a Parkwold Garden." Paton was associated with an Institute for Race Relations, whose members envisioned a common South African society with equal rights and justice for all. Arthur Jarvis shares this conviction.
What His Death Represents
Jarvis also moves in intellectual, social and church circles similar to Paton's. His death brings messages of condolence from such diverse groups as the Daughters of Africa and the Society of Jews and Christians; and invitations to attend an Indian wedding and to speak at the Clermont African Boy's Club remain on his desk. There are messages also from the Acting Prime Minister and from the Bishop. The holder of the former office in 1946 was Jan Hendrik Hofmeyr, Paton's "friend of many years" to whom the novel (except in its U.S. editions) is dedicated. The Anglican Bishop at that time was Rev. Geffory Clayton, who had appointed Paton to the Synod Commission. When, years later, when Paton wrote biographies of both these men, he dwelt in each case on the theme of a white person's journey away from conventional South African prejudices—a theme represented in Cry, the Beloved Country in Arthur Jarvis' "Essay on the Evolution of a South African."

A Country Unites in Mourning
Paton also drew on a personal experience for the funeral of Arthur Jarvis where we find, "White people, black people, colored people, Indians"—the church too small to hold all the mourners. In a 1961 essay, "A Deep Experience," Paton wrote of Mrs. Edith Reinhallt Jones who directed a hostel for African girls. Her funeral afforded Paton a vision of South Africa reconciled under one roof: "Black man, white man, colored man, European, African and Asian, Jew and Christian and Hindu and Muslim, all had come there to honor her memory." And he adds: "I knew that I would never again be able to think in terms of race and nationality. I was no longer a white person but a member of the human race."

The Truth in Jarvis' Words
The dead man's manuscripts look forward to the advent of a common society freed from prejudice and discrimination. They also diagnose the causes of malaise in South Africa's segregated society. Jarvis' essay, "The Truth About Native Crime," declares: "The truth is that our Christian civilization is riddled through with dilemma. We believe in the brotherhood of man but we do not want it in South Africa." This emphatic judgment echoes that of Paton's friend, Jan Hofmeyr, in a March 1946 speech: "As long as we continue to apply a double standard in South Africa, we suffer as a nation from what Plato would have called the lie in the soul."

Freedom from Apartheid
Ultimately the fictional character, Arthur Jarvis, is not intended to represent any particular person, but to embody an ideal: a non-racial outlook. In 1948, the year the novel was published, any hope of progress toward this ideal vanished with Apartheid. For nearly 35 years, until Nelson Mandela's release from prison, the prospect of a non-racial state seemed hopeless. Then, although many of the former liberals including Alan Paton were dead, South Africa's new constitution developed the concept of a non-racial state. Had he lived to see this, Paton would certainly have rejoiced; so also, we may imagine, would his fictional characters: Arthur Jarvis, his father James, Theopholis Msimangu, and Stephen Kumalo.

NEXT STORY

Next Story

Comment

LONG FORM
ONE WORD