“Cry, the Beloved Country” written by Alan Paton tells a story about the effects of colonialism on the setting of South Africa and how it has changed people’s lifestyles. The land of South Africa, the protagonist of the story where all the perceptions center, is portrayed as a vivid, colorful country. However, as the colonists had started to infest the land, the people and nature had started to deteriorate. Colonists had imposed excessive cattle grazing and production of grains on the farmers. This had caused the lands to become exhausted fast and become barren. Also, the concept of industrialization and modernity had been engrained by the colonists into the minds of people. Hence, more and more people were seen to be moving towards the city in hopes of finding a better life. The story then shifts to the perspective of the Reverend Kumalo, who is well aware of the colonial effects on the lands of South Africa and how it is polluting their people as well as nature. He was also able to pick out the patterns of youngsters leaving the villages to struggle for jobs. Kumalo was a simple Christian priest who lived in the small town called Zulu of Ndotsheni with his wife. He had a huge family until his sister Gertrude, his brother John and his only son Absalom had all decided to set out for the city of Johannesburg which was the biggest in South Africa. All of them had also gone in hopes of getting a better life and work a better job. One day, Kumalo received a letter from an unknown priest named Theophilus Msimangu. The letter bore the message of Kumalo’s sister Gertrude being extremely unwell. This made Kumalo very restless and he wanted to see his sister immediately. He then decided to go to Johannesburg in order to pay his sister a visit and also while at it, meet up with his only son Absalom. While he was on his way to Johannesburg, his acquaintance had requested him to check up on a daughter of a friend who had presumably gone missing. This incident portrayed how seldom the people of the village visited the city and how less contact was kept between the people of the city and them.
When he finally came to Johannesburg, he got to meet Theophilus Msimangu who was a kind, generous and wise priest. Theophilus Msimangu had been the one to lead Kumalo through the city as he had never been there before. While searching for his lost kin, Kumalo finds out that his sister had been sick morally. He found out about Gertrude’s profession as a prostitute in the city and this is how she has been earning a living for her family. She also kept her son in the setting of gamblers and alcoholics which was something that the priest did not approve of along with her prostitution. Kumalo could not take the conditions in which his sister and her son had succumbed to and had pursued them to go back to the village to have a healthier life. Theophilus Msimangu also gets Kumalo to meet with his brother John. He had become a politician, along with managing a side store, who did services for the black community of Johannesburg. However, he had become a corrupt politician who had only veiled his thirst for power and control with the purpose of helping out black workers. His intentions nowhere lied around the actual services for the people of the black community. He preached mostly about equality and fair wages for the workers and gave speeches that attracted many followers. These selfish motives made his position worthless. John had given a lead to Kumalo’s only son Absalom which then takes up a lot of their time searching for him. Theophilus Msimangu and Kumalo kept catching tails of the next clue to Absalom’s whereabouts and pursuing towards it. Finally, they confront him in jail. Absalom was taken in for committing the murder of a man named Arthur Jarvis. The man was a white anti-racist activist who had caught Absalom red-handed in the act of theft along with two other guys. Kumalo was baffled at the actions of Absalom and wanted to know the reason behind him choosing robbery over a decent job he had, carrying a gun and leaving his pregnant girlfriend without any shelter. To answer all of his father’s queries, Absalom simply claimed that the devil was behind all these hideous actions. It was very clear that the shot had been fired by accident and that Absalom had no intentions of killing Jarvis. Kumalo then decides to pay his girlfriend a visit and inform her of Absalom’s present state. Kumalo projects his disappointment towards the girl for being so careless and becoming pregnant at a young age but then later he calmed himself with the thought that they were only young and naive. He then proposed the girl marry Absalom and live with them back in Zulu, which she readily agreed to. She was more than happy to settle down at the village in the Kumalo’s household and did not care for the murderer tag on Absalom.
In the second part of the story, a shift of perspectives takes place from Kumalo to James Jarvis, the father of the man who was murdered by Absalom. His farm is ironically right beside that of Kumalo in the village of Ndotsheni. After the news of his son’s murder, the family was petrified and they immediately set off for Johannesburg. At the household, James Jarvis comes across an unfinished piece of writing by Arthur. This writing had taken place moments before the shooting. The whole writing revolved around how Arthur had personally felt responsible for the conditions of the black community and that he wanted to reform the system so that nobody had to suffer. But the incompletion was very rigid as that was the moment he had died from the gunshot. James was very proud of his son who was so empathetic towards the people and wished to do them well.
The scene then moves to the trial of Absalom. Having ticked all the conditions of shooting, carrying an illegal gun and being responsible for the murder of Arthur Jarvis, he had one thing in his defense; that this murder was not intentional. He explained how Arthur’s presence had startled him and that is how he ended up firing the shots. The two other accomplices who had been with him in this had completely denied their presence during this heist. However, Absalom remained strong-headed with his stand through the rough interrogation of the judge. Meanwhile, Kumalo comes to the door of Barbara Smith to ask of the girl who had gone missing and had found James Jarvis already present there. Kumalo opened up to him, confessing that it was his son who had killed Arthur and a tearful confrontation is followed afterwards.
The jury on the trial concluded that the two friends of Absalom who he had claimed to be present in this act might have really been there. Also, the fact that Absalom’s past and current conditions were the results of the colonial effects that had vanquished the black community and taken away opportunities for growth. However, the individualistic act of murder cannot be reasoned with as a social problem. Having no other logical or solid proof for his unintentional murder, Absalom was sentenced to death. Kumalo, Theophilus Msimangu and Absalom’s girlfriend pay him a visit in jail. They also brought a kind-hearted Priest named Vincent who was there to help out with the marriage. They both get married in the prison cell and Kumalo then takes Absalom’s girlfriend along with him to live with them back in Zulu. He also brought back Gertrude's little son whom she had abandoned whilst running away so she does not have to come with Kumalo into the village. Kumalo decides to set up farming techniques and teach kids so that they would not have to go to the cities to work and earn a living. He wished to create more opportunities in the village so that they would not have to leave. One day he encounters a little white boy in his doorsteps. It turned out it was Arthur Jarvis’s son. They both wind up in a conversation where they discuss the lack of milk in the village. This made Jarvis send out milk packets to Kumalo to give out to the rest of the village.
A day prior to Absalom’s sentence date, Kumalo had decided to travel to the mountains so he could meditate. He waited until dawn fell because that was the scheduled time for Absalom’s execution. Kumalo remains hopeful that a reformation would take place in Africa for good. Even though he may not live to see the day come, he remains hopeful for a future where the people and nature of this land no longer suffer for survival. He falls asleep while gazing at the sky and wakes up at sunrise.