Out of Africa

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

OUT OF AFRICA is not a conventional autobiography but rather a selective collection of the author’s impressions of her life in Africa that have been turned into a pastoral idyll through her art. The book focuses on the land and people of Africa and on the significance they had for her. Though Dinesen is present throughout the work, the real protagonist of the autobiography is Africa itself.

For Dinesen, Africa is separated from the everyday Western world by more than geographical distance. It is a world untouched by various social and scientific changes. The land, not yet domesticated by technology, is the shaper of human destiny. As a consequence, the people, whether native or immigrant, must be courageous, imaginative, and capable of dealing with the unknown.

Dinesen describes at great length these people, filling the book with such portraits as the destitute but vivacious Old Knudsen, the Englishmen Berkeley Cole and Denys Finch-Hatton, her servant Kamante, and Masai chief Kinanjui, the actor Emmanuelson, even the gazelle Lulu. These figures, Dinesen explains, are aristocrats who live outside of rigid systems but have a keenly developed sense of ritual that grows from their imaginative response to life.

The book ends with the failure of Dinesen’s farm and, with it, the passing away of the old Africa, symbolized by the deaths of Kinanjui and Finch-Hatton. Yet this Africa would live on in the stories that Dinesen had begun to write on her farm. The values of Africa form an integral part of Dinesen’s writing, of which OUT OF AFRICA itself is one of the finest examples.


Dinesen, Isak. Letters from Africa,...

(The entire section is 698 words.)