Only things at a distance can be seen clearly. Although Isak Dinesen did not publish Out of Africa until several years after her African experience, her early formal training at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts helped form her sense of what it meant to be a writer. The notes for her book had been written in times of great weariness and anger. Distanced from those conflicts, she became essentially a modernist artist, attempting to replace the real with the ideal. Critics have said that there are no real Africans in her writing, only mythical representations of a lost era. Out of Africa was written for and well received by Europeans and Americans. It is Dinesen’s vision of the Africans’ vision of her. With this widely read book, Dinesen participated in the construction of Africa and Africans in the Western consciousness. At the same time, she constructed her own identity.
Taking a line from philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche as the epigraph for Out of Africa—“Equitare, arcem tendere, veritatem dicere” (To ride, to shoot with a bow, to tell the truth)—Dinesen echoes many of Nietzsche’s ideas. An important theme, well illustrated by Karen Blixen’s character as well as by the Africans, is Nietzsche’s belief that fate, rather than guilt or sin, is the cause of suffering, and that fate should be courageously accepted. Denys Finch-Hatton, who clearly emerges as a hero in the work, represents Nietzsche’s call for a new nobility, individuals who have learned to know life through action and who, therefore, have a use for history. In essence, Finch-Hatton teaches Karen Blixen how to become herself. Before knowing him, she had found her teachers in the library and become herself only in her imagination, while her false self acquiesced to society’s demands. As she constructs her new life in Africa, both in the living and in the remembering, those restraints are lifted and she truly soars. Much of the book’s appeal rests in its power to allow readers to find themselves through their imaginations.
Dinesen’s philosophical flights are...
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