Cry, the Beloved
Responses to Reading
Please write a typed one-page
response to any one of the prompts below regarding Cry, the Beloved Country. Be
sure to indicate which prompt you are answering. These are not simple questions handled
with a sentence or two, but rather intended to provoke a short, thoughtful essay. You must
answer completely and support your answer from the novel--other support from additional
sources may be used at your discretion.
1. How is Cry, the Beloved Country part
story, part prophecy, and part psalm? How does the story resemble the biblical parable of
the prodigal son? How does it mirror another biblical parable, Absalom? What is the
significance of Kumalo's son being named Absalom? Where else does the Bible inform the
2. Msimangu says, "I see only one hope for our country, and that is when white men
and black men, desiring neither power or money, but desiring only the good of their
country, come together to work for it." The book was written in 1948. Fifty-one years
later, has Msimangu's prophecy come to pass? If so, in what ways? If not, why?
3. How does apartheid manifest itself in Cry, the Beloved Country? Describe or
characterize the separate worlds inhabited by blacks and whites. Where do black and white
4. Jarvis is unable to physically comfort Kumalo. Paton writes, "and because he spoke
with compassion, the old man wept, and Jarvis sat embarrassed on his horse. Indeed he
might have come down from it, but such a thing is not lightly done." But yet, when
the people of Ndotsheni are in grave trouble, Jarvis provides milk and irrigation vital to
their survival, and later a new church. Why is he capable of one and not the other?
Exactly what is it that is not lightly done? How and why does such duality exist? What do
you feel about such codes of behavior?
5. Arthur Jarvis says, "It was permissible to allow the destruction of a tribal
system that impeded the growth of the country. It was permissible to believe that its
destruction was inevitable. But it is not permissible to watch its destruction, and to
replace it with nothing, or by so little, that a whole people deteriorates, physically and
morally." What event in the novel illustrate the breakup of the tribal system? How is
the tribal system destroyed? What is done to replace it?
6. An unidentified white person in the novel offers, "Which do we suffer, a
law-abiding, industrious and purposeful people, or a lawless, idle and purposeless people?
The truth is that we do not know, for we fear them both." What is it that the white
man fears in both instances? Which does the white man suffer in this novel? What might be
Paton's point of view? What is your opinion and why?
7. Describe the role of faith in the novel. How does it serve Kumalo and Msimangu, the
people of Ndotsheni? Was it faith that inspired Arthur Jarvis, and hence his father? What
about Absalom? Is there any indication that faith impedes or injures any of the
8. There are many secrets in the novel--secrects with no answers. Father Vincent tells
Kumalo, "Yes, I said pray and rest. Even if it is only words that you pray, and even
if your resting is only a lying on the bed. And do not pray for yourself, and do not pray
to understand the ways of God. For they are a secret. Who knows what life is, for life is
a secret." How does this notion of secret permeate the novel? What does it give the
novel? What effect do Father Vincent's words have on Kumalo? How do they apply to or
9. Kumalo and the demonstrator have very different opinions about the white man. Kumalo
says, "where would we be without the white man's milk? Where would swe be without all
the white man has done for us? Where would you be also? Would you be working for him
here?" And the demonstrator answers, "It was the white man who gave us so little
land, it was the white man who took us away from the land to go to work. And we were
ignorant also. It is all these things together that have made this valley desolate.
Therefore, what this good white man does is only repayment." How do Kumalo and the
demonstrator reconcile their different points of view? How might the other characters in
the novel feel? What is your point of view?
10. The last few sentences Arhur Jarvis wrote before his death are provocative: "The
truth is that our civilization is not Christian; it is a tragic compound of great ideal
and fearful practice, of high assurance and desperate anxiety, of loving charity and
fearful clutching of possessions." Where in this novel do we see a split between high
ideals and narrow self-interest? Do the characters embody one or the other, or are they
morally mixed? Do you think what Jarvis feels applies to present-day South Africa? If so,
how? If not, how have things changed?