Cry, the Beloved Country

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Themes and Colors
The Land and the Tribe Theme Icon
Racism and Apartheid Theme Icon
The City vs. Nature Theme Icon
Christian Faith Theme Icon
Fathers, Sons, and Families Theme Icon
Understanding/Knowledge vs. Ignorance/Naiveté Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Cry, the Beloved Country, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Fathers, Sons, and Families Theme Icon

When the land and tribe are corrupted, and the city and the country are pitted against one another, it follows that families will break apart. Throughout the novel, families are torn to pieces, particularly fathers and sons. In particular, the novel explores two significant father/son relationships: that of Stephen Kumalo and his son Absalom Kumalo, and that of James Jarvis, and his son Arthur Jarvis. Both sons vanish to Johannesburg, and their fathers come to find them only after something terrible has happened – Arthur is shot dead in a house invasion, and Absalom is his killer. Both fathers, then, seek to understand something about their sons and their sons’ circumstances. Stephen struggles to come to terms with his child killing another person, and, by extension, what has happened to his country and the brutal cycle in which they are all trapped. James attempts to get to know his son through his son’s papers and library, things he did not know about him before his death. Both fathers grieve, and their losses are only truly reconciled when James helps Stephen rebuild his church, and Stephen befriends the late Arthur’s young son. The city of Johannesburg tore both of their families apart, but outside of the city's borders, broken families can heal.

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Fathers, Sons, and Families Quotes in Cry, the Beloved Country

Below you will find the important quotes in Cry, the Beloved Country related to the theme of Fathers, Sons, and Families.
Book I, Chapter 3 Quotes

The journey had begun. And now the fear back again, the fear of the unknown, the fear of the great city where boys were killed crossing the street, the fear of Gertrude’s sickness. Deep down the fear for his son. Deep down the fear of a man who lives in a world not made for him, whose own world is slipping away, dying, being destroyed, beyond any recall.

Related Characters: Stephen Kumalo, Absalom Kumalo, Gertrude Kumalo
Related Symbols: Johannesburg
Page Number: 34
Explanation and Analysis:

The narrator has described the train journey to Johannesburg; the train goes through the hills, and beautiful plants grow along the side of the tracks. Stephen has arrived for the train an hour early, feeling anxious about the trip. In this passage, the narrator describes Stephen's fears about Johannesburg, Gertrude, and Absalom. To some extent, these fears are concrete, based on the knowledge that Gertrude is sick, and that in the city traffic is so dangerous people are killed simply by crossing the street. However, Stephen's anxiety is also more fundamental and abstract. At this stage, he doesn't know what has become of Absalom, but (correctly) assumes that all is not well. 

Meanwhile, the narrator's comment that Stephen is "a man who lives in a world not made for him, whose own world is slipping away" highlights the fact that his worries pertain to something deeper than this specific trip to Johannesburg. Colonization and modernization have ushered in a new South Africa, one that is hostile to Stephen and, ultimately, to black South Africans in general. The narrator's words foreshadow the coming apartheid regime, which––although it has not yet been established––seems to be contained under the surface of the existing landscape of the country. 

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Book I, Chapter 5 Quotes

The tragedy is not that things are broken. The tragedy is that they are not mended again… It suited the white man to break the tribe… but it has not suited him to build something in the place of what is broken.

Related Characters: Theophilus Msimangu (speaker)
Page Number: 46
Explanation and Analysis:

Theophilus Msimangu has taken Stephen to the room where he'll be staying, and the two men have spoken about Stephen's family members who are in Johannesburg. Msimangu has explained that Stephen's brother John is a famous politician who has abandoned God, and hints that Stephen's sister Gertrude is now a prostitute. Msimangu then reflects on the "broken" nature of South African society, echoing the point made by the narrator that the country is suffering as a result of native South Africans being cut off from the land and the tribe. However, where the narrator's descriptions of the ruined natural landscape suggest that the problem lies within ruthless colonial industrialization itself, Msimangu's point is subtly different. 

Msimangu acknowledges that "the white man" has destroyed the tribe, but says that "the tragedy is not that things are broken." This implies that on some level it may have been inevitable that tribal life should come to an end, considering the global turn toward modern, urban, industrial life. However, Msimangu goes on to emphasize that when something is broken, it is necessary for it to be mended or replaced. According to this logic, the end of tribal life should have been replaced by new ways of living that similarly facilitated the familial, communal, and spiritual support originally provided by the tribe. However, this has not been the case, and instead black South Africans have been left impoverished and uprooted, disconnected from their roots and from one another. 

Book I, Chapter 11 Quotes

There is not much talking now. A silence falls upon them all. This is no time to talk of hedges and fields, or the beauties of any country. Sadness and fear and hate, how they well up in the heart and mind, whenever one opens pages of these messengers of doom. Cry for the broken tribe, for the law and the custom that is gone. Aye, and cry aloud for the man who is dead, for the woman and children bereaved. Cry, the beloved country, these things are not yet at an end. The sun pours down on the earth, on the lovely land that man cannot enjoy. He knows only the fear of his heart.

Related Symbols: Earth/Land
Page Number: 94
Explanation and Analysis:

Stephen has still not found Absalom, but has discovered that Arthur Jarvis has been murdered during a home invasion. Stephen and the priests learn that Jarvis was working on a manuscript when he was killed, and that he was known for his support of the black community. In this passage, the narrator laments the state of the South African nation, which is dominated by "sadness and fear and hate." The narrator emphasizes that the country's natural beauty remains, but that people are not able to enjoy it because they are so consumed by the death and suffering around them ("the fear of [one's] heart").

This passage contains the title of the novel, which takes the form of a demand to mourn what has become of South Africa. The phrasing of the sentence "Cry, the beloved country" also suggests that it is South Africa itself that is crying. This coheres with other instances in the novel in which the land is represented as bleeding or hurting in the same way as a living organism. 

Book I, Chapter 12 Quotes

Some cry for the cutting up of South Africa without delay into separate areas, where white can live without black, and black without white, where black can farm their own land and mine their own minerals and administer their own laws. And others cry away with the compound system, that brings men to the towns without their wives and children, and breaks up the tribe and the house and the man, and they ask for the establishment of villages for the labourers in mines and industry.

Related Symbols: Money/Gold, Earth/Land
Page Number: 99-
Explanation and Analysis:

A town hall has been held at which the murder of Arthur Jarvis is discussed, alongside other concerns about crime, social welfare, and race relations. The crowd has debated education, with some proposing that enrollment of black children in school should increase; others oppose this idea. Eventually, the crowd begins to discuss the possibility of apartheid––"the cutting up of South Africa... into separate areas, where white can live without black." The introduction of this suggestion into the context of the town hall reveals the way in which apartheid was framed as a "solution" to the problems of poverty and crime. The implication was that South Africa's problems were a result of racial mixing.

Using this logic, it is possible to make apartheid seem like an attractive and fair solution (as "separate but equal" segregation was for many whites in the American South). The narrator's explanation that black South Africans could "farm their own land and administer their own laws" makes it seem as if apartheid would benefit black people, affording them more freedom and self-determination. However, this masks the reality of what the separation of the races really entailed. Because of colonization, whites were far wealthier and possessed control over land, resources, and power––even though these entities originally belonged to native black South Africans. Overall, this passage makes clear how easy it can be to disguise oppressive policies as beneficial to those they are designed to exploit. 

Book II, Chapter 23 Quotes

For mines are for men, not for money. And money is not something to go mad about, and throw your hat into the air for. Money is for food and clothes and comfort, and a visit to the pictures. Money is to make happy the lives of children. Money is for security, and for dreams, and for hopes, and for purposes. Money is for buying the fruits of the earth, of the land where you were born.

Related Characters: Arthur Jarvis (speaker)
Related Symbols: Money/Gold, Earth/Land
Page Number: 194
Explanation and Analysis:

James Jarvis has gone to Arthur's house and has been reading from Arthur's unfinished manuscript about the socioeconomic problems plaguing South Africa. Arthur has described how European colonialism destroyed the indigenous tribal system of South Africa, thereby leaving native South Africans without a community through which to structure their lives. In this passage, Arthur turns his focus to the mines, arguing that the riches of the mines should be "for men, not for money." This distinction alludes to the problem of pursuing money for its own sake. As Arthur explains, money has many necessary uses––"food and clothes and comfort," "security," and "buying the fruits of the earth." In one sense, this passage emphasizes the importance of money, implying that without sufficient income, people will suffer. 

On the other hand, this passage also serves as a warning against greed. As Arthur argues, money is not valuable in itself; rather, it is only valuable because of the good things it can bring to people. The implication of this statement is that it is very possible to have too much money. Arthur's statement that money should be used for "purposes" sounds vague; however, it takes on a deeper meaning within the context of global imperialism. Many people today observe that the driving force behind colonization was greed––European colonizers identified an opportunity to grow rich through the exploitation of natural resources and the labor of indigenous populations, and developed colonial systems and racial philosophies accordingly. 

Book II, Chapter 28 Quotes

The Judge rises, and the people rise. But not all is silent. The guilty one falls to the floor, crying and sobbing. And there is a woman wailing, and an old man crying Tixo, Tixo. No one calls for silence, though the Judge is not quite gone. For who can stop the heart from breaking?

Related Characters: Stephen Kumalo, Absalom Kumalo, Absalom’s girlfriend
Page Number: 226-227
Explanation and Analysis:

Absalom's trial has taken place, and the two other men accused of being accomplices to the murder have been acquitted. Although the judge acknowledges Absalom's honest confession and display of remorse, he concludes that he must still find Absalom guilty, and sentences him to death. In this passage, the narrator describes the reaction to the sentencing within the courtroom. On one level, the atmosphere is calm and disciplined––"the Judge rises, and the people rise"––representing the triumph of law and order. At the same time, there is emotional chaos: Absalom falls to the ground, his girlfriend wails, and an old man (presumably Stephen) cries "Tixo, Tixo," the Xhosa word for "God." Once again, the narrator returns to the theme of brokenness––the country, tribe, land, and now "the heart" are all broken.

Book II, Chapter 29 Quotes

He had come to tell his brother that power corrupts, that a man who fights for justice must himself be cleansed and purified, that love is greater than force. And none of these things had he done… He turned to the door, but it was locked and bolted. Brother had shut out brother, from the same womb had they come.

Related Characters: Stephen Kumalo, John Kumalo
Page Number: 236
Explanation and Analysis:

Absalom has been married to his girlfriend in prison. Afterward, Stephen stays to speak with Absalom, and promises to take care of his unborn child. Stephen then goes to see John at his carpentry shop, and advises him to be careful about both his son and his political actions. However, John reacts defensively to Stephen's warnings, and violently forces his brother to leave, even locking him out. This interaction suggests that some people are not able to escape corruption. Unlike Absalom, who shows remorse for his crime and reforms himself before death, John is committed to a life of greed and dishonesty, and refuses to hear any contradictory advice about this from his brother. The narrator emphasizes the power of corruption by mentioning that John and Stephen came "from the same womb," but John has now shut Stephen out of his life completely. 

… he prayed for his son. Tomorrow they would all go home, all except his son. And he would stay in the place where they would put him, in the great prison in Pretoria, in the barred and solitary cell; and mercy failing, would stay there till he was hanged. Aye, but the hand that had murdered once pressed the mother’s breast into the thirsting mouth, had stolen into the father’s hand when they went out in the dark. Aye, but the murderer afraid of death had once been a child afraid of the night.

Related Characters: Stephen Kumalo, Absalom Kumalo
Related Symbols: Johannesburg
Page Number: 239
Explanation and Analysis:

There has been a going-away party for Stephen, who will be returning to Ixopo and taking Gertrude and Absalom's wife with him. Meanwhile, Msimangu has given up all of his money and possessions to help repay what Stephen has spent in Johannesburg. Alone, Stephen counts the money, thinks regretfully about his fight with his brother, and prays for his son. He recalls Absalom as an innocent baby, reflecting on the astounding fact that the little boy he remembers grew up to commit murder. Once again, this passage focuses on the theme of corruption, and the way in which Johannesburg so drastically altered the course of Absalom's life. Note also that Stephen describes Absalom's childhood fear of the dark, a detail that emphasizes the destructive force of fear.