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“Cry, the Beloved Country" Study Guide: Biblical Allusions and Tone

written by: Keren Perles • edited by: SForsyth • updated: 1/17/2012

In “Cry, the Beloved Country," tone doesn't seem to remain constant. How does the tone change? Why do the names sound so biblical, and which biblical allusions are most important? Read on for the answers to these questions and more.

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    Tone of the Novel

    In “Cry, the Beloved Country," tone is an important part of reading the book. The tone is lyrical and poetic, and it changes depending on the subject at hand. When the book is telling the story of Kumalo, it often takes on a bitter tone. When it discusses something about Africa in general, however, the tone of the writing is proud and strong. In "Cry, the Beloved Country," biblical allusions abound, and these allusions can help the reader understand the differences in tone within the novel.

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    Biblical Allusions of Names

    Perhaps the most obvious biblical allusions in the story concern the names of several of the characters. For example, Absalom’s name alludes to the biblical Absalom, who was King David’s wayward son. Although he incited rebellion against his father, his father refused to rejoice when he was killed. Instead, he mourned his son’s rebelliousness and wished that Absalom had made better choices. In “Cry, the Beloved Country," Absalom’s death is similar. Stephen Kumalo mourns for Absalom while refusing to condone the negative choices that Absalom made. The tone of the novel therefore turns bitter when telling the story of Absalom, whose namesake came to such destruction.

    Two other characters in the novel also have biblical allusions inherent in their names. Stephen Kumalo’s first name probably alludes to St. Stephen, who was the first Christian martyr, who was stoned to death. Similarly, Stephen Kumalo seems to be a martyr for his people, undergoing horrible trauma because of the greater trauma that has struck his people. In addition, Absalom asks that his unborn son be named Peter. Although the biblical Peter sinned, he was absolved through true repentance. It is possible that Absalom asked for Peter’s name to be given to his son to signify his true repentance. The tone towards the end of the book, talking about the "unborn child," turns more lyrical because of this repentance.

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    Other Biblical References

    In addition to these biblical allusions that run throughout the book, there are various references to biblical verses that can be found in the book. For example, Kumalo maintains that “the Lord, the creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary." This biblical allusion, along with other "Cry, the Beloved Country" biblical allusions, shows the strength of Kumalo’s faith in goodness and in religion.

"Cry, the Beloved Country" Study Guide

Reading "Cry, the Beloved Country" in class? This "Cry, the Beloved Country" study guide contains articles that can help you prepare for a test - or just enjoy the book itself.
  1. “Cry, the Beloved Country" Study Guide: Biblical Allusions and Tone
  2. “Cry, the Beloved Country" Study Guide: Important Quotes Explained

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