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Literature / Cry, the Beloved Country

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Cry, the Beloved Country is a 1948 novel by Alan Paton. Called "the most important novel in South Africa's history," it tells the tale of Father Stephen Kumalo, a poor African priest who leaves his small village to venture into the big city of Johannesburg, where his estranged sister Gertrude and son Absalom moved years before.

It has been made into film several times, most recently in 1995 with James Earl Jones and Richard Harris. In 1949, Kurt Weill and Maxwell Anderson adapted it into the musical Lost in the Stars.

This book provides examples of:

  • Aloof Older Brother: Or rather, aloof younger brother John Kumalo, who wants nothing to do with Stephen or the Church since becoming a locally important political activist.
  • Amoral Attorney: Averted. Absalom's lawyer takes the case pro bono because he believes Absalom is telling the truth.
  • An Aesop: Don't rely solely on prayer for help in life. Physically take action sometimes.
  • And Now for Someone Completely Different: The second part of the book focuses on James Jarvis, who had only been very briefly mentioned before.
  • The Atoner: Absalom towards the end of his life.
    • Also Msimangu. He entered the priesthood because of guilt over the kind of man he was in his youth.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Both Kumalo and Jarvis have lost their young adult sons, but Jarvis has a change of heart and helps Kumalo's starving and miserable tribe recover and prosper again, and Kumalo now has a grandson and a daughter in law to live with him.
  • Cain and Abel: Stephen and John, though John isn't so much as villainous as he is cowardly and selfish.
  • The City vs. the Country: Kumalo's home of Ndotsheni, versus the big mining city of Johannesburg. They are shown to both be pretty terrible, but Ndotsheni at least is a World Half Full where things are starting to get better by the end.
  • Country Mouse: Kumalo, who is both confused and frightened by Johannesburg.
  • Cosmic Plaything: Kumalo suffers every possible minor mishap and every major personal tragedy during the time he's in Johannesburg.
  • Establishing Character Moment: The city of Johannesburg's evil nature is first revealed when a young man tries to take advantage of Stephen being a Naïve Newcomer by offering to take his money to buy him a ticket at the "bus ticket office" so he can save his place in line, and then runs off with it.
  • Face Death with Dignity: Absalom Kumalo admits guilt for the murder of Arthur Jarvis, after his two accomplices provide alibis. A death sentence ensues, as expected.
  • Karma Houdini: William and Pafuri, the other two boys involved with the break in. They get off scot free, because there is not enough evidence to prove they were there at the murder. But Absalom unfortunately is not so lucky. However, they are mentioned as being in prison for another crime.
  • Meaningful Name: Absalom Kumalo, who rebels against his father's Godly ways much as Absalom rebelled against his father David.
  • Preacher Man: Kumalo and Msimangu, as well as several others who help them on their quest.
  • Scenery Porn: The film makes the best possible use of the Natal's magnificent landscape in the opening and closing scenes.
  • Send in the Search Team: Kumalo is the search team, gone to look for Gertrude and Absalom.
  • There Should Be a Law: People discuss the various social problems, particularly native crime, and discuss laws about what to do.