Out of Africa Masterpieces of Women's Literature Out of Africa Analysis
by Isak Dinesen

Start Your Free Trial

Download Out of Africa Study Guide

Subscribe Now

Masterpieces of Women's Literature Out of Africa Analysis

Dinesen’s pastoral mourns the loss of the old order of Africa and the similar old order of preindustrial Europe. The story has the structure of the fall of humanity. Its moral is the Lord’s answer to Job. Karen’s belief that the Great Powers are laughing at her is similar to the answer that Job received from God, that Job had neither the power nor the right to question Him. Karen concludes from her answer that the proper response to life is to experience joy both in beauty and in horror. Having experienced the unbearable, Karen passes through a kind of death, transcends her experiences, and weaves them into a pastoral fable about a paradise lost. This loss is not through choice, but through the outside forces of the modern world and nature.

Out of Africa conveys a common personal experience, the moral growth that occurs after a world is smashed and the resulting adaptation. The book restates this message on a cultural level. It retells, in an African setting, European myths about otherness and a past Golden Age. In order to convey myth, Dinesen is vague. She rarely mentions her name, Karen Blixen. The reader knows only that she is adored by both black and white and that Denys Finch-Hatton is her very close friend. This vagueness sustains the dreamlike nature of the memoir, both as a realized personal dream and as the Golden Age of psychic and cultural childhoods. The mythologizing process achieves the aim of romantic autobiography, illustrating the ideal in the real through individual personal experience.

Dinesen’s implicit question, the one answered by the Great Powers is whether life is significant. Emmanuelson, part charlatan and part actor, points to life’s significance (although he is not sure what it is) through its grandeur as perceived through the imagination. That Emmanuelson expresses this opinion is apt, for Dinesen considers transcendence to have an element of fakery, since it cannot be justified by facts.

In writing about the rhythms of African life, Dinesen also reconstructs the world of the European romantic past. The coffee plantation’s loss to creditors represents the destruction of old European society based on mutual responsibility and affection. The tragedy of the old order’s breakup is illustrated by the tribes’ desire to stay on the land even after the farm is sold. In a traditional example of noblesse oblige, Karen pesters government offices until she secures the tribes a large reservation. Because of their attachment to nature, the natives’ sense of morality is stoic. Their passive strength and endurance of hardships reflect, in their simplicity, the point to which the highest morality returns, at a complete acceptance of God’s will.

In the same sense, the natives’ primitive Ngomas, or dancing parties, while reminiscent of prehistoric times, also suggest the highest civilization. Karen’s description of the people dancing in their appointed...

(The entire section is 734 words.)