Contrast Dubula with John Kumalo. How does the pairing of these characters reflect the novel’s major themes?
In Alan Paton’s Cry, the Beloved Country, John Kumalo and Dubula are united in their opposition to South Africa’s racial injustices. But while Kumalo enumerates grievances without suggesting realistic solutions, Dubula represents positive, pragmatic change—not to mention the possibility of cooperation between whites and blacks. Paton contrasts Kumalo and Dubula to argue that a policy of cooperation and optimism is a far more effective political strategy than attempting to stir up anger and stoking a community’s desire for vengeance.
On the surface, Dubula and John Kumalo seem bonded by their desire to end the tyranny of whites over blacks in South Africa. They are often described respectively as the “heart” and “voice” of the movement for racial equality, nicknames that suggest they are part of one crusading body. The narrator notes that both men have rejected the Christian Church, which pays its white officials higher salaries than its black officials and offers only lip service to the idea that blacks deserve equal status. This shared action shows that both men have a common interest in weakening institutions that reinforce the notion of black inferiority. Both men make concerted efforts to promote black citizens’ economic interests: Kumalo with his calls for an end to the Church’s oppressiveness and Dubula with his demands for a bus boycott. In the novel’s early scenes, the men seem to be one and the same, heroic yet interchangeable figures in the struggle for black equality.
As the story unfolds, however, Paton makes it clear that John Kumalo primarily relies on anger and grievances to mobilize his black followers. Upset by the Church’s practices, he does not attempt to reform the institution or set up a useful alternative for his people, but merely encourages impotent rage throughout Johannesburg. Suspicious that tribal customs are a white tool for suppressing black independence, Kumalo flat-out rejects the entire set of customs, including the useful tribal traditions of monogamy and family bonding. (His disgusted brother notes that Kumalo has not selected new or different customs, but has instead replaced a set of flawed customs with the far more dangerous idea of no customs whatsoever.) Kumalo complains that fear rules the land, but he does not offer a plan for alleviating this fear. The ideas Kumalo advances amount to little more than harsh words and complaints, rather than constructive plans or even short-term suggestions for progress.
By contrast, Dubula stands for hope, cooperation, and a pragmatic approach to social change. Whereas Kumalo can only stew over the poor housing opportunities afforded to black citizens, Dubula initiates a Shanty Town, in which formerly crowded tenants can spread out and await the chimney pipes and iron that Dubula courageously provides. Whereas Kumalo merely rants about the economic plight of black citizens, Dubula proposes and carries out a bus boycott to lower the fares for black passengers—a boycott that has the added effect of changing white citizens from the unified, faceless enemy that Kumalo describes into allies in the struggle for racial justice, as many whites offer car rides to blacks during the boycott, risking courtroom trials of their own. Whereas Kumalo is merely an eloquent “voice,” Dubula is a strong, tireless “heart” that refuses to acknowledge “the fear that rules [Kumalo’s] land.” Dubula rejects a career of complaining in favor of brave, practical, and loving efforts to improve the status of South Africa’s black citizens.
By moving past the superficial similarities between Kumalo and Dubula, Paton implies that a spirit of pragmatism and productivity is far more effective than stirring up rage and making speeches. At first, Dubula and Kumalo seem to be one and the same in their desire for racial equality, reinforcing the notion that civil rights movements tend to involve large, unified fronts. But Kumalo quickly distinguishes himself from Dubula in his unwillingness to put aside grievances and work for tangible change. Dubula, on the other hand, emerges as a hero, energetic and optimistic enough to drive blacks out of their cramped housing and into a makeshift Shanty Town. The genius and audacity of Dubula’s actions may account for Mshingulu’s glowing admiration: Unlike Kumalo, Dubula laughs away “the fear that rules this land.”