“Cry, the Beloved Country” by Alan Paton Summary

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For this assignment, we were required to read Alan Paton’s “Cry, the Beloved Country”. I was super excited when I started off the reading and it literally took me 3 days to finish it. I was relieved when I finished the entire reading and I would say that I completely enjoyed reading it. The captures the essence of the journey of a rural South African father who travels to and across Johannesburg in pursuit of his beloved son. For the main character, a Zulu priest, Stephen Kumalo, and the harrowing experiences he finds in Johannesburg, the audience certainly couldn’t do anything except for grieving. “Cry, the Beloved Country” the title itself has a strong meaning behind it. It reflects South Africa’s anarchy, corruption, and devastation. It is meaningful as it signifies the country shattering through the historical background, the chaos of the nation, and the ground.

I would agree that culture biases and assumptions can affect a person’s way of thinking and the perspective to certain things. Coming to this novel, I come from a typical Indian origin and so is my cultural heritage, therefore, I have a strong bias towards one of the main aspects in this novel which is the racial inequality which existed in South Africa years ago and which still exists, is similar to that of the consequences faced by India during the British colonization.

South Africa being widely recognized for the practice of apartheid, which seems to be the systematic discrimination within a nation between ethnic categories that encourages them to be viewed unfairly in all facets between society. Apparently, the book is set throughout the period which involves the apartheid establishment in South Africa. The primary characters are members from opposite ethnic groups. When the plot switches between the opposing characters, Stephen Kumalo and Arthur Jarvis, it is evident that they share common personal challenges and hardships, even when they are from diverse cultures.

My main reason that I enjoyed reading this is because the book reveals how individuals will switch their way of behaving and working towards one another, even if it could be because of the immense disaster they witness. This also applies to us in our own lives as much as it occurred in the book. The impact of culture on the way that Jarvis and Kumalo look at things and experiences the worlds they inhabit are similar because both of them shared the same grief and their life in the village. The book is a portrayal of a conflict focused on ethnic inequalities amongst two different groups – African culture vs Dutch and English culture which is culminating in a concept of discrimination, inequality and injustice.

Stephen Kumalo was the oldest pastor in the remote town of Ndotsheni, as well as a member of the community known as Zulu. He was a generous person who was aware of his people’s deprivation from hardship, bad economic conditions, as well as the loss of their children to Johannesburg’s attractiveness. Whereas, James Jarvis was a white western property owner, who resided close to the church but is of the Kumalo tribe. Unlike Stephen, he seemed to be successful and always felt he had a right of claim to the nation’s resources and insisted in the inadequacy of the local citizens.

Without the knowledge of James about his son, he became a social activist and racial justice leader, as a means to deter young black people from increasing crime and abuse. Kumalo’s son involuntarily assassinated him. This disaster was forcing both people to reconsider their own futures and also to manage to find a living together to preserve the beautiful place where they both lived in. Race has always been the most critical social and cultural phenomenon which led to sustained inequality and injustice. The key difference in treatment between both the African tribes that initially inhabited the region as well as the white, European colonists who appeared in the mid-1600s was skin color.

Perhaps, in the end, as Kumalo rebukes Letsitsi for arrogance, Paton creates a perception of mutual respect between both the cultures. Although the result of the barrier in Ndotsheni would be a strong support for all the blacks, such feeling of freedom isn’t the goal; the overall aim of the development is not just for the black community but also a strong priority for all of South Africa. The last Jarvis-Kumalo fight underlines the similarities between both the people. On their trips to Johannesburg, each suffered horribly, and even used their misery as an impulse to social change. These individuals are mindful of their flaws and weaknesses, which Jarvis reveals while he mentions that he was never a hero, but more frequently than just not they are impeccable in their behavior.

This journey of cultural differences appears as something of a challenge than just a synopsis, while Paton creates the path towards the peak point by Stephen Kumalo which was the final encounter confronting the pastor of Cry, the Beloved country. And then just prior to Kumalo decides to live on the peak of mountain range, Absalom is beheaded. Kumalo appears stable, which he demonstrates through bringing his wife to accompany him on the peak of the mountain range. Throughout the journey to the peak of the mountain range, Kumalo’s reflections act as a light of optimism in the book. Kumalo doesn’t quite necessarily think about the pain himself and others are experiencing but rather acknowledges the goodness about people including Msimangu and James Jarvis.

We have learned about different encounters in this course. According to me, encounter with suffering and encounter with injustice fits this novel precisely. Suffering and injustice go hand in hand in this novel and I think the instances that I provide further would explain my reason for choosing these encounters. When the novel ends, the fate and misery of those characters were compared by Paton to that of the entire fate of the South African country as a whole. Race has always been the most critical social and cultural phenomenon which led to sustained inequality and injustice.

The key difference in treatment between both the African tribes that initially inhabited the region as well as the white, European colonists who appeared in the mid-1600s was skin color. It was only the major argument which was used to explain unequal justice, prejudice, racism and discrimination. For instance, while Kumalo headed off on his journey through railway to Johannesburg, due to his ethnicity he was forced to travel in just the cars which were reserved for ‘non-Europeans’ like him. There were various sections constructed throughout the town, the only reason for white and black residents to remain. Blacks were required to remain in shantytown areas such as Claremont, which was considered to be a trash spot with people.

There had been segregated places for blacks and whites whenever they want to sit in the courts, which was where Absalom who was Kumalo’s son was charged in the same place. The way the communication was between the blacks and whites also proved how the discrimination and prejudice was back then. For instance, when Kumalo faces his son’s murderer’s father while he visits a house to inquire about his friend’s daughter. This novel explains how Jarvis responded to Kumalo’s statement which was, ‘Jarvis should have rescued him, but such a thing is not done so easily’ (Paton, Alan). This comment shows the intense black-and-white situation at the period and whether that form of racist response was actually a part of their daily lives.

Injustice is even further demonstrated by that of the deterioration in the foundation of the native families affected throughout by the impact of the harsh world in which those people were coerced to live in. Therefore, there was no much land left for all the natives to use after the white settlers took hold over most of the lands that were once productive. Furthermore, they started to encounter suffering through droughts which led to the lack of crops for people living there. Tribal people turned to survival methods for several years in an attempt to live. Drought along with weak farming practices also exacerbated unsustainable tribal land regions. In response to all these difficulties they haven’t yet started to change using soil sabotaging and desertification techniques.

The members from this Zulu tribe often keep the tradition of the lobola, a form of bride wealth trade which effects to possess many cattle’s because the guy pays for cattle for his wife, which in return destroys the grass and the grass would have a hard time to recover. It’s complicated to accept this method despite any need to conserve the soil for food production. There are very little prospects of having the young adults attached to their tribal community. Due to which, mostly young black men and women often have left their native places and migrated to pursue jobs in another country, just like what happened in the novel. There are hardly any options for them to stay so houses are crowded with many that still have small houses: ‘The home is not destroyed because it is crowded. Ten individuals in two rooms, with only one door to the entrance, so when you go to sleep, people walk over you ‘. (Paton, Alan).

I completely agree that the concept of “sacramental awareness” has been critical to understanding the encounter with the sacred as we have discussed in this course. “Sacramental Awareness” means finding significance of God in everything we do. The sacramental awareness demonstrates that if we obey and follow God, he is available to us throughout our lives in whatever we do and in every form of human existence. Sacramental awareness contributes to a specific global understanding of the sacred. On the other hand, the Bible technically claims that God will always be there with his followers. Throughout the novel by Alan Paton, a message is conveyed that the role of God is both simultaneously understood and at the same time is also overlooked by the characters, by including skin color. Kumalo was so spiritual because he was a priest and the term “sacramental awareness” actually suited him. He could feel the presence of God by him continuously and he also had that connection with God. He often considers God as a sole basis for which he develops his faith and strength to solve the challenges that approach.

According to me, this concept is completely helpful with my life’s experiences because my way of living is also very similar. I pray at least five times a day and see God in every good thing I do. For instance, if I want to start something new and important, I pray to God and start that with quite a few rituals. I also fast sometimes in the name of God if I want something important to happen to me or my loved ones. God is present everywhere, in nature, food and whatever we do. We should have faith in God and keep moving, even if something bad happens we shouldn’t lose faith in God instead just keep praying. Sometimes, God will test us and he will test how our faith in him is. If we are materialistic and stop praying to God after we got what we wanted he might test us by taking something important from us. Well, this is what I always believed in and also listened to my parents talk about their experiences in God. I don’t think I will change my faith in God for anything.


  1. Paton, A. (1944). Cry, The Beloved Country. Retrieved from https://archive.org/stream/in.ernet.dli.2015.242743/2015.242743.Cry-The_djvu.txt
  2. Wear, G., Paton, A., & Durham, R. (2009). Cry, The Beloved Country. London, England: Penguin Books.

Cite this paper

“Cry, the Beloved Country” by Alan Paton Summary. (2021, Dec 25). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/cry-the-beloved-country-by-alan-paton/



Is Cry the Beloved Country a true story?
No, Cry the Beloved Country is not a true story. It is a novel written by Alan Paton.
What is the main theme of Cry the Beloved Country?
The main theme of Cry the Beloved Country is the relationship between forgiveness and hope.
What is the moral of Cry, the Beloved Country?
Cry, the Beloved Country's emphasis on forgiveness and love in the face of suffering indicates its strongly Christian moral framework.
Why did Alan Paton write Cry, the Beloved Country?
Paton wrote the novel hoping to raise awareness for increased crime rates in South Africa . Leading up to the publication of Cry, the Beloved Country, Paton published two articles in Forum.
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