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Cry, the Beloved Country | Study Guide

Alan Paton

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Cry, the Beloved Country | Quotes


These hills [near Ixopo] are grass-covered and rolling, and they are lovely beyond any singing of it.

Narrator, Book 1, Chapter 1

The novel's opening sentences offer a graceful example of Paton's lyrical style. Along with numerous other examples, this passage bears out the judgment of the editor, Maxwell Perkins, who commented, "One of the most important characters in the book was the land of South Africa itself." Note the same passage is repeated verbatim at the start of Chapter 18, which opens Book 2 of the novel.


Johannesburg [has] so many streets ... [one can go] up one and down another, and never the same one twice.

Narrator, Book 1, Chapter 3

Johannesburg plays an important symbolic role in the novel. The city is a melting pot of different cultures and a bustling center of business, politics, and crime. It is particularly associated with South Africa's preeminent gold-mining industry.

For traditionalists like Stephen Kumalo, Johannesburg is formidable, even forbidding. For Stephen's brother, John, the city is a target of opportunity. For Gertrude, Stephen's sister, the city is a center of temptation. For Absalom, Stephen's son, Johannesburg is an overwhelming and poorly understood metropolis.


Deep down the fear of a man ... beyond any recall.

Narrator, Book 1, Chapter 3

From the very beginning, the novel's protagonist, Rev. Stephen Kumalo, is portrayed as out-of-step with the momentous changes sweeping through his country and his society. He is elderly, courteous, pious, and traditional, but the world he encounters—especially in Johannesburg—is politically and socially volatile, and often eludes his comprehension.


There is laughter in the house ... it is in truth bad laughter.

Narrator, Book 1, Chapter 6

This passage occurs as Stephen is about to meet with his long-lost sister, Gertrude, for the first time. The "bad laughter" is an image connoting the life of prostitution and petty crime into which Gertrude has fallen.


You have shamed us ... How could you do this to us?

Rev. Stephen Kumalo, Book 1, Chapter 6

Stephen's reproach of Gertrude clearly conveys his conservative social values. Note his emphasis on shame, and also on the family's standing in a society of tribes or clans.


He stopped, and was silent ... for this was a new brother that he saw.

Narrator, Book 1, Chapter 7

This passage occurs during the reunion between Stephen and his brother, John. John has become an influential politician, as evidenced by the power of his voice to persuade and sway others. Emphasis is placed on the abrupt change Stephen notices in his brother.


I have one great fear in my heart ... they will find we are turned to hating.

Rev. Theophilus Msimangu, Book 1, Chapter 7

Theophilus's words foreshadow the bitter results of apartheid, a government policy of strict segregation and oppression that was about to take effect when Paton's novel was first published in 1948.


Cry, the beloved country, for the unborn child that is the inheritor of our fear.

Narrator, Book 1, Chapter 12

This urgent exhortation or plea gives the novel its title. Paton's words poignantly mingle sorrow and apprehension.


The tribe was broken ... and the maize hardly reached to the height of a man.

Narrator, Book 1, Chapter 13

The quotation conveys some of Stephen's inner thoughts during his visit with Theophilus to Ezenzeleni, the mission for the blind. Stephen laments the collapse of the traditional tribal structure, as more and more young people leave their rural homeland for the city, and the homeland itself withers away from drought and neglect.


My friend, your anxiety turned to fear ... sorrow may enrich.

Father Vincent, Book 1, Chapter 15

In this quotation, Father Vincent is speaking to Stephen, attempting to comfort his fellow priest. Father Vincent, a white Anglican priest, is portrayed as extremely sensitive and benevolent. The paradox presented here—that sorrow may be positively enriching—lies at the heart of the novel's plot: although Stephen is destined to suffer intensely, he emerges as a convincing hero.


The old man was tempted ... and the father's compassion struggled with ... temptation and overcame it.

Narrator, Book 1, Chapter 17

This passage occurs during an encounter between Stephen and his son, Absalom. Absalom has been arrested and imprisoned for the murder of Arthur Jarvis, a white spokesman for liberal, reformist policies in South Africa. Stephen does not understand why Absalom did not sever his connections with bad companions while he still had the chance. The passage is one of several that show Stephen as conflicted. Here the father's compassion conquers his anger, or "temptation."


It was permissible to allow the destruction of a tribal system that impeded ... growth.

Arthur Jarvis, Book 2, Chapter 20

This passage is an extract from Arthur Jarvis's manuscript, "The Truth About Native Crime." The context is James Jarvis's visit to his son's home after Arthur's murder. For the first time, James becomes acquainted with his son's ideas about race relations in South Africa as he reads the manuscript his son was working on at the time of his death.


We believe in the brotherhood of man, but ... do not want it in South Africa.

Arthur Jarvis, Book 2, Chapter 21

This passage is another extract from Arthur Jarvis's manuscript. Arthur's words concisely telescope one of the novel's central conflicts—the fractured co-existence between the white and black races in South Africa, with the whites' dominant position in the country's society and power structure.


And he knew then that this was a man who put his feet upon a road.

Narrator, Book 3, Chapter 34

This passage sums up Stephen's growing realization of James's commitment to reform and social justice in South Africa.


But when that dawn will come ... why, that is a secret.

Narrator, Book 3, Chapter 36

The novel's concluding sentence highlights an emphatic counterpoint between "bondage" and "fear"—two of the leading ideas in the book's portrayal of South African society.

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