Cry, the Beloved Country is an insightful look at the historical injustice of apartheid in South Africa. It was written by Alan Paton, one of the most influential anti-apartheid advocates in the country. In addition to shedding light on the wrongful discrimination and segregation, Paton tells an engaging story about a father’s search for his son. The themes of family, justice, and freedom make this a story that continues to be relevant and powerful today.

As a complement to the novel, consider including a lesson on South African politics in the 1940s, when apartheid was imposed. Information on the geography of South Africa and the meanings of foreign words will also help students envision and understand the setting. A biographical lesson on Alan Paton, a white, Christian South African who worked for social reform and unity, will foster discussion on how he incorporated his own life experiences and beliefs into the novel.

Summary of Cry, the Beloved Country

Key Facts

  • Length: 316 pages
  • Lexile® Measure: 860
  • Publication Date: 1948
  • Recommended Grade Band: 11-12
  • Anisfield-Wolf Book Award (1949)

Reverend Stephen Kumalo receives a letter from a minister, Theophilus Msimangu, telling him that his sister Gertrude is sick. Stephen journeys from his village, Ndotsheni, to Johannesburg to see her and to find his son, Absalom, who had gone to live in Johannesburg and is now missing. In the city, Kumalo witnesses racial and economic divisions, discovers that Gertrude has been living as a prostitute and liquor seller, and learns that Absalom has impregnated a young woman and is wanted for the murder of Arthur Jarvis, a white man who fought for racial justice.

Content Warning: Cry, the Beloved Country contains references to prostitution and alcohol abuse.

What Your Students Will Love About Cry, the Beloved Country

  • The historical importance of the setting and learning about South Africa.
  • The moving and relatable themes of freedom, justice, and family.
  • The poetic style in which the story is told.

Potential Student Struggles With Cry, the Beloved Country

  • Understanding the historical background and context of the novel.
  • The unhurried pace of the narrative.

Learning Objectives for Cry, the Beloved Country

  • Understand the history and social politics of South Africa.
  • Discuss the role religion plays in the lives of the characters.
  • Analyze the symbols of the red earth, the lamp burning outside the church, and the “brightness” of Arthur Jarvis and his son.
  • Explain how fear and greed prevent white South Africans from implementing social reform.
  • Describe the plight of black women in South Africa and their lack of opportunity to improve the conditions of their lives.
  • Evaluate the role and responsibility white men in South Africa have for the disintegration of tribal culture.

Literary Elements in Cry, the Beloved Country

  • Allusion
  • Foreshadowing
  • Historical Fiction
  • Irony
  • Metaphor
  • Parable
  • Simile

Major Themes in Cry, the Beloved Country

Race — The novel examines racial segregation in South Africa during apartheid and its economic and social effects.
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Freedom and Confinement — Black South Africans are restricted to specific areas of Johannesburg or to infertile land, and Absalom is imprisoned for murder. Metaphorically, white South Africans are limited by their prejudiced attitudes.
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Justice — The characters seek justice for Arthur Jarvis’s murder, but inequalities in the judicial system make true justice almost impossible to attain.
Related Works:

Other Resources for Cry, the Beloved Country

Resource Format
Cry, the Beloved Country Teaching Unit Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set
Cry, the Beloved Country AP Teaching Unit Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set
Cry, the Beloved Country Complete Teacher's Kit Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set
Cry, the Beloved Country Activity Pack Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set
Cry, the Beloved Country Response Journal Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set
Cry, the Beloved Country Multiple Critical Perspectives Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set