Form and Content
Out of Africa is the result of Isak Dinesen’s seventeen years as an unsuccessful coffee farmer in the Ngong Hills outside Nairobi, British East Africa (now Kenya). A retrospective narrative, it details her personal experiences in that land and offers a wealth of observations about nature, the culture of the natives, and the life of the immigrant settlers. The book also contains many vivid portraits of both natives and settlers, as well as accounts of numerous dramatic incidents, such as experiences during World War I, incidents of violence, safaris, and lion hunts. Dinesen approaches her material from the perspective of one who truly loves Africa but who is also struck by the fundamental otherness of the indigenous culture and who only gradually and partially is able to liberate herself from her ethnocentric views. To a large extent, however, her perspective is anticolonialist, for she is able to clearly see that the natives are often unjustly treated by the European settlers.
The structure of the book is in part chronological and in part thematic. No clear sense of a chronological beginning is given, for Dinesen has chosen to begin her narrative with an account of the geography of her farm, which is truly fitting because it is the land itself that holds the greatest importance in her story. The latter part of Out of Africa, in which the author details the circumstances surrounding the loss of her land and the death of her lover Denys Finch-Hatton, on the other hand, has a clear chronological structure that the young adult reader will find easy to follow.
The book is divided into five parts, which are further broken down into shorter and longer chapters. Starting with the stories of a servant boy named Kamante and a pet gazelle called Lulu, Dinesen next moves into an account of a dramatic shooting accident on the farm, in which one native child is killed and another is seriously wounded. Through a description of the legal aftermath of the tragedy, she is also able to share with the reader many observations about native life, including the concept of justice held by the Kikuyu, the most prominent local tribe. A section dealing with visitors to the farm affords her the opportunity to offer thumbnail sketches of natives, settlers, and visitors from abroad. The story of her friendship with Finch-Hatton has a prominent place in this section, as it does in the book as a whole. The fourth section, which is entitled “From an Immigrant’s Notebook,” is a miscellany of stories, sketches, and semiphilosophical musings. The final entry in this section, a brief sketch that has been entitled “The Parrot,” is a poignant symbolic expression of Dinesen’s loneliness after Finch-Hatton’s death. The volume’s final section tells about the economic downturn that finally led to the loss of the farm, the plane crash in which Finch-Hatton lost his life, and the author’s last months in and departure from Africa.
Form and Content
Out of Africa, the mythical autobiography of Karen Blixen (who wrote under the name Isak Dinesen), offers an idyll in which humans recover the original unity among themselves, society, and nature. This paradise collapses because of natural and his-torical interventions. The work is divided into five parts—four acts of idyll, then a fifth describing a swift, unaccountable fall. The dreamlike structure becomes progressively more tangible in its description of the farm’s loss. Parts 1 and 2 represent what Dinesen calls Africa’s “music.”
Part 1, “Kamante and Lulu,” tells of a wounded native, Kamante, and of a tiny gazelle, Lulu. Dinesen expresses African music by describing the civilized and wild qualities in each. Kamante’s culinary genius makes Dinesen reconsider her own civilization. Elegant Lulu has the air of a wellborn lady. Karen’s discovery of civilized traits in nature implies that civilized accomplishments can be judged by their congruence with nature.
“A Shooting Incident on the Farm,” the second part,...
(The entire section is 5,997 words.)