The novel Cry the Beloved Country by Alan Paton takes place in the era just before official apartheid in South Africa. It tells of Reverend Stephen Kumalo, a black minister in a remote village, who journeys to the city of Johannesburg to find out what has become of his son Absalom. Eventually, Absalom becomes arrested, convicted, and condemned to death for burglary and murder. The novel explores the relationship between black people and white people, the disruption of tribal society, the degradation of the land, and the exodus of many black young people from the countryside to urban areas.
The beautifully poetic description of the hills in chapter 1 of the novel serves as a metaphor and creates the mood and tone for the story that is to follow. Paton first describes the hills as paradisiacal.
These hills are grass-covered and rolling, and they are lovely beyond any singing of it. The road climbs seven miles into them, to Carisbrooke; and from there, if there is no mist, you look down on one of the fairest valleys of Africa. About you there is grass and bracken and you may hear the forlorn crying of the titihoya, one of the birds of the veld.
This first description of the hills is meant to represent the Africa of the past, an Africa that no longer exists. For it goes on to say that the hills have become bare, can no longer hold the soil, and are now coarse and sharp. Old men, old women, mothers, and children remain on the decimated lands, while young men and young women leave and head for the cities. This chapter leads the reader from an impression of paradise to a feeling of disaster and exodus, and this sets the mood and tone for the unfolding story.