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Security And Independence In Alan Paton's Cry, The Beloved Country

1857 words - 7 pages

One great paradox of human life is the balance between security and independence. Many people would say that they are self-sustaining, that they can make it on their own. The question is not always whether or not they can make it, but what the cost of their security is. Some value their personal freedom more than their security, for others it is the opposite. In “Cry, the Beloved Country” characters often wrestle with this issue. Every character responds uniquely according to their situation. The results are meaningful and give information about who they really are and what they value.
First there is Gertrude, the protagonist’s younger sister. She grew up with the tribe in Ndotsheni, but upon reaching adulthood, left for Johannesburg. Her original profession is unknown, but she desired to be away from the restrictions of the tribe. There is no better way to remove yourself from a society than to do something unacceptable. Gertrude achieved this by defying one of the tribe’s and her family’s most sacred institutions, the church. She turned to prostitution as an answer to her desire freedom. She was in charge, she set the price. It made her feel good knowing that she was worth more than the tribe saw her as. She did not need a man to support her. She could discard the tribe’s ideas of marriage and family. It came at a price though. She lost all security. She believed that this was freedom. The truth is that she was never free as a prostitute, she was completely dependent on her customers. It was with her purity and innocence that she paid for the food on her table. If her body did not sell, she would have to lower the price, and the standards. Stephen brought to light the trap that she was in. At first she believed him, but after a while she started to question. Was this not the controlled religious life she was trying to escape? Her old life called her back and she answered, this time with full abandon of responsibility. She left in the night and left her child with his uncle to take care of him. She rejected the interdependence of community and embraced the false sense of independence that she had become so used to.
Then there is Stephen’s brother, John. He also left Ndotsheni for a new life in Johannesburg. He seemed to still hold his Christian beliefs at first, but soon the nature of the city got to him. He opened a carpentry shop. It became his pedestal. He would speak to his customers and realized that he could persuade them not just to buy wooden furniture, but to thing about politics. John had lived in Johannesburg long enough to realize that things were different. His people were not treated in the same way as the white people. From the springboard of his shop, he bounced off political ideas. The people listened and his store became a political hub. They saw him as their leader. He had rejected security and in its place found power far greater than he could have ever achieved in his homeland. That power brought instability though. With his...

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