Stephen Kumalo is the protagonist and moral compass of Cry, the Beloved Country. He is a quiet, humble man, with a strong faith in God and a clear sense of right and wrong. An Anglican priest, Kumalo cares for his parishioners and presides over the modest church of the village he calls home. By village standards, Kumalo and his wife are middle-class, living in a house with several rooms. They struggle, however, to save money for their son’s schooling and for a new stove. Kumalo is not flawless, and he occasionally erupts in anger and tells lies. Praying to God, however, saves him from temptation, and he always repents when he speaks unfairly.
As the novel begins, Kumalo undertakes his first journey to the city of Johannesburg. He is intimidated and overwhelmed by the city, betraying his simple background. With the help of generous hosts, however, he is able to put his fear aside and search with determination for his son. As the search drags on, we become aware of Kumalo’s physical weaknesses—according to African tradition, he has reached the time in his life when his children should be caring for him. He is forced instead to search for his son. When it becomes clear that Absalom is in grave trouble, Kumalo’s body is further broken by his grief. His faith wavers, too, but he seeks the help of friends in the ministry, who support him and pray with him. By the time Kumalo leaves Johannesburg, he is deeply sad, but his faith is buoyed by the generosity of others. When he returns to his village, Kumalo works to improve the lives of his parishioners. In the end, he faces his son’s death with mourning, but also with a sense of peace.