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Analysis of Biblical Themes in "Cry, the Beloved Country"

Updated on December 26, 2015

Introduction

Throughout history, the allegorical tales of the Bible have resurfaced time and time again. Movies, literature, and real life all mimic the stories of long ago. These stories capture the essence of mankind and the true qualities that lie within all of us. In “Cry, the Beloved Country,” Alan Paton successfully weaves several Biblical threads together to create a profoundly powerful story.

The name "Stephen"

The first striking Biblical reference is the fact that protagonist, Stephen Kumalo, shares his first name with the first Christian martyr of the New Testament. Biblical Stephen was responsible for providing care for the widows of his area. Later, Jewish leaders falsely accused him of opposing and slandering the Jewish law. In an inspiring act of faith, Stephen stayed true to his beliefs, pointed out that the Jews murdered Christ, and was subsequently stoned. Stephen Kumalo also never turned from his beliefs. When it seems like everyone that he knows and loves has changed he stands up for what he believes. He does not hold popular opinions and there are severe repercussions for maintaining his beliefs, but still Kumalo never deviates. Although the martyrdom of Stephen initially sparked anti-Christian sentiment in the area, it eventually resulted in increased missionary work in the area. Stephen Kumalo’s life similarly affected everyone else, eventually provoking such statements as, “Yes, it is the dawn that has come.”

The name "Absalom"

Paton doesn’t really try to hide these Biblical allusions. Stephen Kumalo’s son holds the extraordinarily uncommon name, Absalom, just like the rebellious son of Kind David. This Hebrew name literally means “father is peace” referring to the righteous reign of Kind David and the love and security that Stephen Kumalo brings. Biblical Absalom killed his brother, Amnon, because he raped their sister, Tamar. This seemingly noble cause had terrible consequences. In “Cry, the Beloved Country,” Absalom leaves for Johannesburg in search of work, ignorant to the ripples that this seemingly gallant action would have. Biblical Absalom son is most notable for the insurrection against his father. In the novel, Absalom and his father have two very different moral and ethical backgrounds and this provides much conflict and strife between the characters. At the end of the novel, however, Stephen Kumalo is still filled with grief and sadness for his son, just as the forgiving Kind David was for his son.

Symbolism of Jesus Christ

The actions of many characters hint of those of Jesus Christ. Just as Christ continually sought guidance and direction from the Father during his earthly ministry (as a child at the temple, while fasting in the wilderness, upon the cross, in the garden of Gethsemane, etc.), Stephen Kumalo sought refuge and consultation in his Bible as often as he could. Arthur Jarvis devotes his life to mending race relations and dies in the prime of his life without serious blemish on his conscience. Jarvis’ father was bitter at the loss of his son, but the writings that Arthur made in his life eventually changed James Jarvis’ heart. Christ’s death was seen by many as a shame and a tragic lost, however, the work that he did in his life, his death, and his subsequent resurrection also has the ability to change lives.

Conclusion

The Bible is one of the greatest sources of symbolism and true human emotion. The follies and weaknesses of man have not changed in the past few thousand years, but the valiance and the courage of man also live on. Paton effectively captures the universal truths and principles encapsulated in the Bible and glosses them over a stirring tale of apartheid, equality, fear, faith, rebellion, love, and ultimately hope. It’s no wonder that this book was “an immediate worldwide bestseller.”

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