Cry, the Beloved Country

by Alan Paton

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Compare and contrast Stephen and John Kumalo in Cry, the Beloved Country.

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Stephen and John are brothers, so they share a common upbringing in addition to both being black men living during apartheid in South Africa. Beyond that, they are quite different people. John is a worldly man who is both selfish and incredibly corrupt. This corruption is made worse by the fact that John is able to sell so many people on the notion that he is working hard for their rights. The reality is that John doesn't care about those people. John cares about being in the spotlight and gaining himself more power and recognition:

There are some men who long for martyrdom, there are those who know that to go to prison would bring greatness to them, these are those who would go to prison not caring if it brought greatness or not. But John Kumalo is not one of them. There is no applause in prison.

Stephen is a far different man. His Christian faith is central to his character. He is humble, hard working, and quite selfless. His honesty and moral fiber prevent him from ever considering to seek power like his brother. While John is quite worldly, Stephen at times comes across as fairly naive about the world. We see this when he comes to Johannesburg for the first time and gets cheated upon his arrival.

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Cry, The Beloved Country was written by South African author Alan Paton in 1948.

Stephen Kumalo is the novel's principal character. He is a sixty-nine-year-old Zulu minister who is known for his kindness, compassion, and reliability. Stephen lives a sheltered life in the remote village of Ndotsheni, South Africa. When he travels to the city of Johannesburg to search for his missing son, Absalom, he is faced with the reality of black oppression.

John Kumalo lives in Johannesburg and is Stephen's younger brother. John has rejected religion in order to live a life of selfishness. Although a black activist, he is more concerned with achieving authority for himself rather than achieving equal rights for the black community. While Stephen is warm and gentle, John is cold and self-centered.

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These two characters in Cry, the Beloved Country share several similarities but also differ significantly in many ways. Stephen and John Kumalo are brothers; both are black men of Zulu heritage living in South Africa under apartheid. Each man has a son whom he hopes will have a brighter future than himself and whom he tries to protect. Both men have been strongly influenced by white European culture and are resigned to its domination of their country rather than working actively against it; their refusal to acknowledge the extent of political and racial repression brings negative consequences.

The contrasts between the two men are basically drawn as religious versus secular worldviews, generosity versus selfishness as primary character traits, and rural/small town versus urban residence. Stephen, a devout Christian, is an Anglican minister who lives and works in remote Ndotsheni. His warmth and kindness make him a good pastor, but he also allows his...

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calling to shield him from harsh realities. John, a lapsed Christian, lives in Johannesburg and takes active part in the city’s worldly matters. Although active in the workers’ movement, he seems motivated more by hunger for power than by genuine concern for the oppressed.

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Stephen Kumalo is at first glance a rather simple man. He is a minister among his people, the Zulu, and totally unfamiliar with the city and the way of life that is so different from the one he knows in the country. He is thoughtful and loving and is driven to go to the city to try and find his son Absalom. Through his journey to the city he learns a great deal and returns to the countryside changed. He is more aware of the injustice facing his people and also has a greater understanding of the obstacles and problems they face. Yet he still maintains a powerful and pure hope for what might be. His journey into the city and the unknown for him did not change his hope for redemption for his people.

John, on the other hand, is really out for himself and himself alone. He lacks the compassion and wisdom of Stephen and when Stephen comes to the city he finds it difficult to understand his brother. John selfishly finds a way to keep his son free while his nephew is executed even though John's son was with Absalom when he committed the murder. John represents the cold and cynical approach to the world and the lust for power and influence that is so foreign to Stephen.

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