Out of Africa Themes
by Isak Dinesen

Start Your Free Trial

Download Out of Africa Study Guide

Subscribe Now

Out of Africa Themes

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

The major themes in Dinesen's novel seem relatively clear. She deals with Africa and its culture as a lost paradise because of the influx of immigrating Europeans, who are thoughtless and insensitive to the native tribes' cultures and needs. And for Dinesen this Eden released her from the strict social rules and constraints of European society. Here at last she had found herself and her place. Dinesen stated, "Here I am—where I ought to be." Another strong theme is the place of God and the devil in society. Although Dinesen was not connected to any religion, it is safe to state that she believed in a creative power, which she called God, and that he and the devil somehow worked as a team in the world. For instance, Dinesen wrote that Kamante's fine culinary art made her feel it might be divine and predestined.

"I felt like a man who had regained his faith in God because a Phrenologist showed him the seat in the human brain of theological eloquence . . . if that theology could be proved," then in the end God's existence is true. Then when Kamante lost his fear of snakes and became brave, because of his belief in God, Dinesen wrote, "He did show off a little bit, as if to boast of the power of his God." In these two references to God, Dinesen illustrated both her doubt and belief in a Creator of this Eden, Africa. She expresses her concerns about the life of the African natives and what will happen to them and to their culture because of the brash materialism she sees destroying the Natives' Eden. Of major importance to Dinesen were the eternal existential problems of who is God and what is his intention for his creation, and the Natives of Africa.


(Nonfiction Classics for Students)

Search for Self
The predominant theme of Out of Africa is the search for self. Soon after Dinesen relocates to East Africa, she finds herself alone in a foreign land with the enormous responsibility of trying to operate a successful coffee plantation. In order to accomplish this, she must get to know the land and the East Africans who work for and with her. In the process, she learns more about herself.

During her time in Africa, Dinesen transforms from a Danish aristocrat to a woman who forges a spiritual union with her new home. At one point she asks: "If I know a song of Africa … of the Giraffe, and the African new moon lying on her back, of the ploughs in the fields, and the sweaty faces of the coffee-pickers, does Africa know a song of me?"

Later, she answers that question when she acknowledges, "The grass was me, and the air, the distant invisible mountains were me, the tired oxen were me. I breathed with the slight wind in the thorntrees."

Individual vs. Nature
One way Dinesen explores her self-identity is through her relationship with the land, which she finds challenging yet beautiful. She learns to stand her ground with lions and to cross a desert. When she decides to take provisions to British troops on the border at the outbreak of World War I she travels for three months through rough terrain with a caravan of East Africans. She remembers, "The air of the African highlands went to my head like wine, I was all the time slightly drunk with it, and the joy of these months was indescribable." She also found incredible grace in the landscape. When a young antelope she names Lulu decides to take up residence at her farmhouse, she determines that "Lulu came in from the wild world to show that we were on good terms with it, and she made my house one with the African landscape, so that nobody could tell where the one stopped and the other began." She later maintains that "the years in which Lulu and her people came round to my house were the happiest of my life in Africa. For that reason, I came to look upon my acquaintance with the forest antelopes as ... a token of friendship from Africa."

Dinesen finds "infinite freedom" in Africa, explaining that "it is there that things are going on, destinies are made round you, there is activity to all sides, and it is none of your...

(The entire section is 1,387 words.)