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Bring on the tough stuff - there’s not just one right answer.
Cry, the Beloved Country focuses on Reverend Stephen Kumalo's fish-out-of-water experience as he travels from rural South Africa to confront the urban cultures of Johannesburg. But how would Cry, the Beloved Country be different if a character like Father Vincent had to adapt to the rural Zulu village life of Ndotsheni? What circumstances might bring one of the novel's white characters to live in a largely black village? How would the power dynamics and cultural exchanges of the book shift with this change in racial focus?
We hear almost nothing of Kumalo's wife's perspective on her son's crime and execution. In fact, the narrator even describes her pain as silent, like "the suffering of oxen" (1.2.84). How might Cry, the Beloved Country change if Kumalo's wife told the story? What might she emphasize about the narrative?
Cry, the Beloved Country has a distinctive, almost fairytale-like writing style. We get into the writing a little bit more in the section called (unsurprisingly) "Style." But the timeless, mythical tone of the whole book really strikes us. Would you feel differently about Cry, the Beloved Country if it were written in a more realistic style? If it were non-fiction, would it have the same effect on its readers? Why or why not?
Why do you think Paton chose the naive, mostly innocent Kumalo as his central character? Would the atmosphere of Cry, the Beloved Country change if it was a son of the worldlier, more knowledgeable Msimangu who was accused of murder? How might it alter the purpose of the story if the whole thing took place in the urban landscape of Johannesburg, without any references to the countryside?
Chapters 9, 12, and 23 all deal with big social issues in South Africa, without touching on the immediate plot of the novel. What would Cry, the Beloved Country be like without these issues chapters? How effective do you find the balance between broad social context and story in this book?
In the 1995 film version of Cry, the Beloved Country, James Earl Jones—an American star probably best known for his voice acting as Mufasa in The Lion King and as Darth Vader in Star Wars—plays the Reverend Stephen Kumalo. And in the much more recent film Invictus (2009), American acting legend Morgan Freeman plays South Africa's iconic first black president, Nelson Mandela. After the release of Invictus, some South Africans protested that these Hollywood movies should cast South African actors to play South African roles. Are you more likely to see Invictus or the movie of Cry, the Beloved Country because they star American actors? What do you think about these demands for greater authenticity in casting for Hollywood movies? Do you think the national origin of actors should matter to the roles they are allowed to play?
After publishing Cry, the Beloved Country in 1948, Alan Paton went on to start South Africa's Liberal Party in 1953. We're impressed that Paton had the time to be both a bestselling novelist and the president of a new political party. Which of your favorite novelists would you most like to see getting involved in real-life politics? Would you like to see Suzanne Collins run for president in 2016? Maybe J.K. Rowling could be the next Labour Party Prime Minister for the U.K.?