• Heather Barr

High School Literature: Cry the Beloved Country

Table Mountain Cape Town South Africa

Cry the Beloved Country

by Alan Paton

Cry the Beloved Country is a beautiful depiction of a man sacrificing to reunite his family. The backdrop of this story is life during apartheid in South Africa. This story painstakingly displays how life choices can lead to grief or despair. This would be an excellent book to add to any high school curriculum, but does have some adult topics such as murder, racial tension, contrasting religions, sexual assault, and freedom. As a Christian home school parent, you will be able to discuss these topics and help your child better understand how choices made in the moment can impact the rest of your life.

Level: mature 11th-12th graders

Setting: South Africa during the apartheid.

Possible vocabulary to review as you read:













Duiker Island South Africa

Journaling Prompt Ideas:

Journaling is an excellent way to get your creativity flowing without the worry of perfect grammar. Journal entries are typically no more than 10 minutes of free form writing. You are putting your thoughts and ideas down and they could be a springboard for longer writing assignments later.

  1. Before you read the first chapter spend some time journaling about what this verse means to you: Genesis 1:27 “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” (This is an excellent time as a parent to discuss the sanctity of human life and how God loves ALL of us. )

  2. Imagine you are about to go on a long journey to a place you have never been. Write a journal entry about your feelings and expectations for this long journey.

  3. One theme of this book is how economic and social problems can affect families. Imagine that your family has been affected by one of these problems. Write a journal entry about how you think your family and your faith could help you overcome the obstacles.

  4. Look at pictures of slums in South Africa. Consider what it might be like to live in one. Write your thoughts down in your journal.

  5. Consider the quote from the text: "Happy are the eyes that can close." What do you think this means? Is it easier to sleep when you have a clear conscious?

Concepts to teach:

Themes: the theme in a piece of literature is the author’s main message to us, the readers, that is woven throughout the text. A main theme can typically be found in any piece of literature. In addition to the main theme, a novel will typically have multiple other smaller themes that are sprinkled throughout the text. Cry the Beloved Country is full of rich themes that can make for valuable discussions to have with your child.

How do you find a theme? Simply ask yourself what ties this text together? What story line or idea keeps coming out at me? In Cry the Beloved Country the main character was on a mission to reunite his family. Some would consider this to be the main theme. I would argue that in some rich texts the theme can be somewhat debatable depending on the view of the reader. For me, the main theme was grief and how to grieve with a Godly perspective. This could be because at the time in my life when I was reading this book I was deeply grieving the loss of my mother-in-law and my mother had cancer. Some other themes that can be found in this text are fear, racism, segregation, urban life vs. rural life, and social breakdowns.

After in depth discussions with your student on themes have them write a paper comparing and contrasting two themes found in this book.

South African Slum


Do frequent comprehension checks with your child. This could be through summarization, oral discussion, or review worksheets.

  1. Summarization is simply having your child orally summarize what was read back to you.

  2. Oral discussion is to engage your child with open questions that promote discussion about the text.

  3. Review worksheets are very easy to create at home. You can find key information points in the text and have your student complete the worksheets either while reading or after reading.


The final project I assigned for this book was to do a compare/contrast essay between this novel and the Bible story of the prodigal son. My students did an excellent job drawing insight from each of these stories and then writing about it!

I hope this has been a helpful guide for you as you journey through high school literature! High school is a time of so much character growth and development in our children! It is so important to speak God's truth into them! Novels like this and so many others can give them the avenue for safe discussions about our world and how God truly wants us to respond to it!

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