Cry, the Beloved Country

Cry, the Beloved Country


Alan Paton

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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.

The Land and the Tribe

In Cry, The Beloved Country, the land of South Africa and the original Zulu inhabitants of that land, often called "the tribe," depend upon each other, in a cycle of support and care. Without one, the other is broken, weakened, and dying. Many characters, including Gertrude and Absalom Kumalo, suffer greatly when they leave their village in the country for Johannesburg. The city brings death and corruption: its inhabitants, at worst, are…

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Racism and Apartheid

Cry, The Beloved Country takes place during the historical period of growing racial tension and strife that led to the political policy of apartheid in South Africa, a policy in which the ruling whites enforced a system of strict racial segregation. In the time when the book is set, this policy has not yet been officially enacted, but the novel shows how economic inequality along racial lines sows the seeds of resentment, mistrust, and fear…

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The City vs. Nature

The city of Johannesburg is portrayed as a place to which people are inevitably drawn, and from which they never return, regardless of race. What keeps them there varies from person to person – sometimes they are killed, or put in prison, or descend into poverty or crime – but the constant is that they never return to their homes or families. Arthur Jarvis leaves his father and goes into Johannesburg, but dies before he…

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Christian Faith

Despite the fact that it was the white British and Dutch colonizers who introduced the Christian faith to South Africa through colonization, this faith is the bedrock for most of the protagonists’ lives, black or white. Many of the characters are either men of the church (Stephen Kumalo, Father Vincent, Theophilus Msimangu), or are people of faith. Gertrude Kumalo even turns to the nunhood at the end of the book in…

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Fathers, Sons, and Families

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…

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Understanding/Knowledge vs. Ignorance/Naiveté

The city of Johannesburg can turn the most learned men into metaphorical children. Its nuances require a new and different kind of understanding. Without that understanding, Stephen—the most knowledgeable man in his community—is robbed within minutes of arriving in the city. But knowledge has a special kind of power: you can pass it on to others. Stephen feels revived when he plays with Gertrude’s son. Stephen tells him stories about where he came…

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