Cry, the Beloved Country

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Cry, the Beloved Country is a novel by Alan Paton, published in 1948. American publisher Bennett Cerf remarked at that year's meeting of the American Booksellers Association that there had been "only three novels published since the first of the year that were worth reading… Cry, The Beloved Country, The Ides of March, and The Naked and the Dead."[2]

Cry, the Beloved Country
First US edition
AuthorAlan Paton
CountrySouth Africa
Set inJohannesburg and Natal, 1940s
PublisherScribners (USA) & Jonathan Cape (UK)
Publication date
February 1, 1948[1]
Media typePrint (hard~ & paperback)
Pages256 pp (hardback ed., UK) 273 pp (hardback ed., US)
ISBN0-224-60578-X (hardback edition, UK)
LC ClassPR9369.3 .P37

Two cinema adaptations of the book have been made, the first in 1951 and the second in 1995. The novel was also adapted as a musical called Lost in the Stars (1949), with a book by the American writer Maxwell Anderson and music composed by the German emigre Kurt Weill.

Plot summaryEdit

In the remote village of Ndotsheni, in the Natal province of eastern South Africa, the Reverend Stephen Kumalo receives a letter from a fellow minister summoning him to Johannesburg. He is needed there, the letter says, to help his sister, Gertrude, who the letter says has fallen ill.

Kumalo undertakes the difficult and expensive journey to the city in the hopes of aiding Gertrude and of finding his son, Absalom, who traveled to Johannesburg from Ndotsheni and never returned. In Johannesburg, Kumalo is warmly welcomed by Msimangu, the priest who sent him the letter, and given comfortable lodging by Mrs. Lithebe, a Christian woman who feels that helping others is her duty.

Kumalo visits Gertrude, who is now a prostitute and liquor seller, and persuades her to come back to Ndotsheni with her young son.

A more difficult quest follows, when Kumalo and Msimangu begin searching the labyrinthine metropolis of Johannesburg for Absalom. They visit Kumalo's brother, John, who has become a successful businessman and politician, and he directs them to the factory where his son and Absalom once worked together.

One clue leads to another, and as Kumalo travels from place to place, he begins to see the gaping racial and economic divisions that are threatening to split his country. Eventually, Kumalo discovers that his son has spent time in a reformatory and that he has gotten a girl pregnant.

Meanwhile, the newspapers announce that Arthur Jarvis, a prominent white crusader for racial justice, has been murdered in his home by a gang of burglars. Kumalo and Msimangu learn that the police are looking for Absalom, and Kumalo's worst suspicions are confirmed when Absalom is arrested for the murder. Absalom confesses to the crime but states that two others, including John's son, Matthew, aided him and that he did not intend to murder Jarvis.

With the help of friends, Kumalo obtains a lawyer for Absalom and attempts to understand what his son has become. John, however, makes arrangements for his own son's defense, even though this split will worsen Absalom’s case. When Kumalo tells Absalom's pregnant girlfriend what has happened, she is saddened by the news, but she joyfully agrees to his proposal that she marry his son and return to Ndotsheni as Kumalo's daughter-in-law.

Meanwhile, in the hills above Ndotsheni, Arthur Jarvis' father, James Jarvis, tends his bountiful land and hopes for rain. The local police bring him news of his son's death, and he leaves immediately for Johannesburg with his wife. In an attempt to come to terms with what has happened, Jarvis reads his son's articles and speeches on social inequality and begins a radical reconsideration of his own prejudices.

He and Kumalo meet for the first time by accident, and after Kumalo has recovered from his shock, he expresses sadness and regret for Jarvis' loss. Both men attend Absalom’s trial, a fairly straightforward process that ends with the death penalty for Absalom and an acquittal for the two other defendants.

Kumalo arranges for Absalom to marry the girl who bears his child, and they bid farewell. The morning of his departure, Kumalo rouses his new family to bring them back to Ndotsheni, only to find that Gertrude has disappeared.

Kumalo is now deeply aware of how his people have lost the tribal structure that once held them together and returns to his village troubled by the situation. It turns out that James Jarvis has been having similar thoughts.

Arthur Jarvis' young son befriends Kumalo. As the young boy and the old man become acquainted, James Jarvis becomes increasingly involved with helping the struggling village. He donates milk at first, and then makes plans for a dam and hires an agricultural expert to demonstrate newer, less devastating farming techniques.

When Jarvis’ wife dies, Kumalo and his congregation send a wreath to express their sympathy. Just as the bishop is on the verge of transferring Kumalo, Jarvis sends a note of thanks for the wreath and offers to build the congregation a new church, and Kumalo is permitted to stay in his parish.

On the evening before his son's execution, Kumalo goes into the mountains to await the appointed time in solitude. On the way, he encounters Jarvis, and the two men speak of the village, of lost sons, and of Jarvis' bright young grandson, whose innocence and honesty have impressed both men. When Kumalo is alone, he weeps for his son’s death and clasps his hands in prayer as dawn breaks over the valley.


  • Stephen Kumalo: A 60-year-old Zulu priest, the father of Absalom, who attempts to find his family in Johannesburg, and later to reconstruct the disintegrating state of his village. Book three focuses heavily on his relationship with James Jarvis.
  • Theophilus Msimangu: A priest from Johannesburg who helps Kumalo find his son Absalom and his sister Gertrude.
  • John Kumalo: Stephen's brother, who denies the tribal validity and becomes a spokesman for the new racial movement in the city; a former carpenter.
  • Absalom Kumalo: Stephen's son who left home to look for Stephen's sister Gertrude, and who murders Arthur Jarvis.
  • Gertrude Kumalo: The young sister of Stephen who becomes a prostitute in Johannesburg and leads a dissolute life.
  • James Jarvis: A wealthy landowner whose son, Arthur, is murdered. He comes to the realization of the guilt of white residents in such crimes and forgives the Kumalos.
  • Arthur Jarvis: Murdered by Absalom Kumalo, he is the son of James Jarvis. He had many liberal racial views that are highly significant and influential.
  • Dubula: A big man who was the "heart" of anything and everything Arthur Jarvis did, including wanting peace between the races.
  • Mr. Carmichael: Absalom's lawyer; he takes his case pro deo (for God) in this case meaning for free.
  • Father Vincent: A priest from England who helps Stephen in his troubles.
  • Mrs. Lithebe: A native housewife in whose house Stephen stays while in Johannesburg.
  • The Harrisons: A father and son who represent two opposing views concerning the racial problem. The father, who is Arthur's father-in-law, represents the traditional view, while the son represents the more liberal view.
  • The Girl [Absalom's wife]: A teenage girl, approximately 16 years old, impregnated by Absalom, whom she later marries. She tells Kumalo that Absalom will be her third husband and that her father had abandoned her family when she was quite young. Given her young age it is unclear if any of these marriages were wholly consensual.

Main themesEdit

Cry, the Beloved Country is a social protest against the structures of the society that would later give rise to apartheid. Paton attempts to create an unbiased and objective view of the dichotomies it entails: he depicts whites as affected by "native crime" while blacks suffer from social instability and moral issues due to the breakdown of the tribal system. It shows many of the problems with South Africa such as the degrading of the land reserved for the natives, which is sometimes considered to be the main theme, the disintegration of the tribal community, native crime, and the flight to urban areas.

Another prevalent theme in Cry, the Beloved Country is the detrimental effects of fear on the characters and society of South Africa as indicated in the following quotation from the narrator in Chapter 12:

Cry, the beloved country, for the unborn child that is the inheritor of our fear. Let him not love the earth too deeply. Let him not laugh too gladly when the water runs through his fingers, nor stand too silent when the setting sun makes red the veld with fire. Let him not be too moved when the birds of his land are singing, nor give too much of his heart to a mountain or a valley. For fear will rob him of all if he gives too much.

Paton makes frequent use of literary and linguistic devices such as microcosms, intercalary chapters and dashes instead of quotation marks for dialogue to indicate the start of speech.

Allusions/references to other worksEdit

The novel is filled with Biblical references and allusions. The most evident are the names Paton gives to the characters. Absalom, the son of Stephen Kumalo, is named for the son of King David, who rose against his father in rebellion. Also, in the New Testament Book of Acts, Stephen was a martyr who underwent death by stoning rather than stop declaring the things he believed. The Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts are written to Theophilus, which is Greek for "friend of God".

In the novel, Absalom requests that his son be named "Peter", the name of one of Jesus's disciples. Among Peter's better-known traits is a certain impulsiveness; also, after Christ's arrest, he denied knowing Jesus three times, and later wept in grief over this. After the resurrection, Peter renewed his commitment to Christ and to spreading the Gospel. All that suggests Absalom's final repentance and his commitment to the faith of his father.

In another allusion, Arthur Jarvis is described as having a large collection of books on Abraham Lincoln, and the writings of Lincoln are featured several times in the novel.

Paton describes Arthur's son as having characteristics similar to his when he was a child, which may allude to the resurrection of Christ.

Film, television and theatrical adaptationsEdit

In 1951, the novel was adapted into a motion picture of the same name, directed by Zoltan Korda. Paton wrote the screenplay with John Howard Lawson, who was left out of the original credits because he was blacklisted in Hollywood for refusing to give information to the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). Kumalo was played by Canada Lee, Jarvis by Charles Carson, and Msimangu by Sidney Poitier.

In 1983, a historic stage adaptation was performed by the Capital Players theatre group at the Moth Hall in Gaborone, Botswana. The country was at that time one of the leading "frontline states" to apartheid South Africa and a centre for artistic activity that often stood in quiet opposition to the racist regime just across the border. The premiere was attended by Paton himself, who had travelled from Natal, as well as Botswana's then-President Quett Masire (with political acumen, the director had arranged for the first performance to take place on the President's birthday). School students from across the country were bussed to the capital to see the production.[3]

Another film version was released in 1995, directed by Darrell Roodt. James Earl Jones played the Reverend Kumalo and Richard Harris filled the role of Jarvis.

A stage version by the South African playwright Roy Sargeant was developed in early 2003; it was first staged at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown, Eastern Cape on 27 June 2003 and at the Artscape Theatre in Cape Town on 8 July 2003. The director was Heinrich Reisenhofer. The script, together with notes and activities for school use, was published in 2006 by Oxford University Press Southern Africa.

Musical adaptationEdit

In 1949, the composer Kurt Weill, in collaboration with the American writer Maxwell Anderson (book and lyrics), composed a musical based on the book called Lost in the Stars. The original Broadway production opened on 30 October 1949 at the Music Box Theatre and starred Todd Duncan and Inez Matthews. It ran for 273 performances before closing on 1 July 1950. It was made into a movie, starring Brock Peters and Melba Moore, released in 1974.

Lost in the Stars is the last work Weill completed before his death in 1950. Although he was influenced by spirituals, jazz and blues, Weill's distinctive and original style shines throughout the score.

Israeli contratenor David D'Or performed in a stage version at the Israeli National Theater ("Habima Theater") in 2004.[4][5] Maariv in its review wrote: "D'or's outstanding voice is meant for great parts. His voice and presence embraces the audience, who showed their appreciation by a lengthy standing ovation."[4][6]

In August 2012, the Glimmerglass Opera of New York produced the work, in conjunction with Cape Town Opera, directed by Tazewell Thompson.[7]

Release detailsEdit


  1. ^ Chiwengo, Ngwarsungu (2007). Understanding Cry, the Beloved Country. Westport, CT: The Greenwood Press. p. 21. ISBN 9780313335082.
  2. ^ "Reader's Digest: Gossip, news: J. F. Albright reports on A.B.A. meeting," The Dallas Morning News, 30 May 1948, p. 6.
  3. ^ Cited by former President Masire in a foreword to "More Sherlock Holmes than James Herriot", a memoir by the director of the Gaborone production, veterinarian Roger Windsor, published in 2015 by the Book Guild [1]
  4. ^ a b "Eurovision Song Contest 2004 on Star Radio". Star Radio. Archived from the original on 10 May 2009. Retrieved 12 May 2009.
  5. ^ "Israel in 2004". Archived from the original on 8 December 2008. Retrieved 2 May 2009.
  6. ^ "About David D'Or & The Philharmonic". Yediot Achronot. April 2003. Archived from the original on 10 July 2011. Retrieved 12 May 2009.
  7. ^ Susan Galbraith, "Lost in the Stars at Glimmerglass", DC Theatre, 3 August 2012, accessed 14 February 2013