Cry, the Beloved Country’s distinctive style incorporates diction and symbolism that complement the religious simplicity of the protagonist, Stephen Kumalo. A simple village parson, Kumalo is not a deeply philosophical figure. He has been educated in a missionary school where the Bible is taught almost to the exclusion of other subjects.
The text incorporates a smattering of Zulu and Afrikaans-based words that reflect the South African setting, and Paton provides a glossary of non-English words. The realistic dialogue captures the speech patterns of the various ethnic groups portrayed.
The symbolic aspects of the novel illuminate its themes and characters. The behavior of the titihoya bird symbolizes the rigid, artificial political divisions that operate in the country. The titihoya sings in High Place, James Jarvis’s homestead where the land is fertile and food and water are abundant. In sharp contrast, the bird is unable to sing in the valley of Ndotsheni, where the blacks live in extreme poverty and where exploitation and brutality reign.
The use of biblical names such as Absalom, Stephen, and Peter is also of symbolic significance. The name Absalom connotes the disobedience of the biblical Absalom, who comes to a tragic death for rebelling against his father. The long-suffering Stephen Kumalo’s name recalls St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr. Absalom Kumalo wants to name his son Peter, in the tradition of St. Peter, the rock and founder of the Christian church. Thus Peter Kumalo is to be seen as the foundation of a new dynasty, with the potential for redemption and restoration.
Paton employs irony and sarcasm throughout the novel to point out the evils and hypocrisies of a society defiled by apartheid. The Bishop, for example, decides to transfer Stephen Kumalo from Ndotsheni because of his son’s crime; only a letter from the influential white, Mr. Jarvis, saves Kumalo from this attempted injustice. When the Bishop quickly changes his mind, stating “I see it is not God’s will that you should leave Ndotsheni,” Paton shows with great irony that in South Africa, God’s will and the white man’s are inseparable. Another example of irony is that Arthur Jarvis, champion of native causes, becomes the victim of one the people for whom he fights.