Cry, the Beloved Country

by Alan Paton

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In what ways can Stephen Kumalo’s quest in Cry, the Beloved Country be understood as a pilgrimage?

Stephen Kumalo’s quest can be understood as a pilgrimage in the sense that it is a journey towards getting answers, a journey towards righting some wrongs, and a time for reflection.

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To answer this question, we first need to consider the definition of a pilgrimage. In what might be described as a pilgrimage in its purest form, a person seeks closer to God by taking a journey to a specific destination. For a Muslim, this is likely to be Mecca, and for a Christian, it may be Bethlehem. I would argue, however, that in a broader sense, a pilgrimage can be a journey of discovery or a journey towards setting a wrong right.

Stephen Kumalo’s journey to Johannesburg is both a journey of discovery and one in which he attempts to atone for his son’s wrongdoing. Over and above this, it is a journey towards acceptance of what his son has done and the price that both of them must pay.

If a pilgrimage is a religious journey, then Kumalo’s journey, in which he tries to put right a number of wrongs, certainly counts. He convinces his sister to give up her life of prostitution and return with her son to Ndotsheni. He paves the way for the mother of Absalom’s child to become part of the Kumalo family.

If we define a pilgrimage as a journey of discovery, then this is a pilgrimage upon which Stephen discovers what became of his sister and his son after they left Ndotsheni. While his sister had turned to prostitution and sales of illegal liquor to make ends meet, his son, Absalom, has wound up in jail for murder.

Lastly, a pilgrimage is often a time of reflection. Kumalo’s pilgrimage ends with a time of reflection and meditation at the top of a mountain, which is his way of marking the moment of his son’s execution while thinking about South Africa’s future.

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