“Out of Africa” is a memoir written by the Danish Baroness Karen Von Blixen-Finecke and it’s published in 1937. The book is a retelling of many stories from Blixen’s seventeen years living on a coffee plantation in Kenya which was then know as British East Africa. The plantation was attended by local African Native’s who were mostly from the Kikuyu tribe and most of the stories within center around different friends of Blixen’s in the tribe.
It is a poetic meditation on the people that she knew there and a stunning snapshot of life in the last decades of the British Empire in Africa.
Initially, the book was published in English but later rewritten in Blixen’s native Danish. It is occasionally published under the pen name Isak Dinesen.
The book is separated into five sections of which there are 54 different stories. The novel was turned into an Academy Award-winning movie in 1985 starring Meryl Streep and Robert Redford.
Book One – Kamante and Lulu
The Ngong Farm
The narrator says that she once had a coffee farm in Africa that was at the foot of the Ngong Hills. She describes the landscape as “…dry and burnt, like the colors in pottery” and describes how the heat sizzles in the air and distorts the images that are far away. The farm is six-thousand acres. Most of it is used for farming although part is a forest and another part is land where natives live. The natives are workers on the farm, who pay for the land through labor. The native women and children (who are referred to as Totos) help to harvest the coffee which is roasted on the farm. After the coffee is prepared it is taken to England to be sold.
The nearest town is Nairobi, which is twelve miles away, which is a large town that is surrounded by native villages of Swahilis, Somalis, and the Indians. There is also a large reserve just south of the farm where a tribe of Masai lives.
The narrator feels affection for the natives and feels that she has developed a close friendship with the surrounding tribes, although she does feel that they exist on a different plane than her.
A Native Child
The natives (or “squatters”) on the farm are mostly from the Kikuyu tribe. One day the narrator approaches a small Kikuyu boy named Kamante because she sees that he has open sores on his legs. The narrator gives medical care to the squatters on her farm every morning, although she only knows basic first aid. She instructs the boy to come to her house the next morning for medical care. Kamante begins seeing her for treatment every day for a week, and when his sores have not shown any improvement by that point, the narrator sends him to the local hospital at the Scotch Mission. He stays there for three months until he is healed.
When he returns, he tells the narrator that he has converted to Christianity and begins working in the narrators household. Kamante also begins attending the Evening school for the natives that the narrator runs with a native schoolmaster. Soon, Kamante becomes the cook in the house and does his job very well as he is capable of remembering long recipes and cooking European dishes. Eventually the narrator sends him to be trained in European restaurants in Nairobi. When he returns, Kamante stays as the narrators cook until she leaves Africa.
The Savage in the Immigrant’s House
One year the rainy season, which normally lasts from March until June, does not come. Without it, the heat does not abate, and a drought took hold of the farm. The narrator says that for years afterward, even after she moved back to Europe, she was grateful for the rain. Although it affects the crops, the natives accept the drought stoically. The narrator begins telling stories to her visitors to entertain herself and also begins typing these stories up on her typewriter. The typewriter fascinates the local boys, who have never seen anything like it. Everyday when she begins to type, a crowd of local boys gathers outside her window.
Kamante points out to the narrator that her ‘book’ is not bound together like the ones in the library. She tells him that she can send it to England to be bound. A few days later she is amused to hear Kamante telling this to the other boys.
Kamante is now a Christian, and he feels that this makes him more like the narrator. Some of the other natives in the area, however, are Muslims. The narrator refers to them as “Mohammedans” as they are followers of Mohammed. Muslims are only allowed to eat meat when the animal is killed in a certain way, and eventually the Muslim leader has to grant her servants leave to eat what they can when they are on safari.
One thing that changes after Kamante converts to Christianity is his willingness to touch dead bodies. Most Kikuyu’s will not do this. This comes in handy when an old Danish sea captain comes to live on the farm and dies of a heart attack. Kamante must help the narrator carry the man back to a cabin. The narrator notes that Christianity has changed Kamante and that he is the one who cares for Lulu.
Lulu is a young antelope that the narrator took in after she saw that some native children had caught it. “Lulu” is the Swahili word for pearl and this is what they decide to name the animal. Everyone falls in love with Lulu and Kamante begins caring for her by feeding her from a bottle until she is old enough to eat grain. However, one week Lulu does not return home and the narrator fears that she may be dead. The narrator’s main servant, Farah, tells her that Luly has simply married.
The following day, the narrator spys Lulu eating some grain that has been put out for her while a male deer waits nearby. Lulu continues to visit even though she has found a mate and eventually she has a baby that she brings to the house. Lulu begins to visit less and less to protect her baby and the whole family returns to the wild after some time. But the arrival and caring of Lulu makes the narrator feel that her household is one with the African wilderness.
After the narrator leaves Africa, Kamante writes to her regularly and, although he hires someone else to write for him, the letters are still difficult to read. Most of the time he explains that he is still out of work and begs her to return.
Book Two – A Shooting Accident on the Farm
The Shooting Accident
On the night of December 19th, the narrator is outside when she hears a gunshot. Confused by the sound, she wonders why someone would be shooting. An American man named Belknap who is the mill-manager on the farm finds her a few minutes later. He tells her that his seven-year-old houseboy, Kabero was having a small party with his friends and let them play with Belknap’s shotgun. Unbeknownst to them, the gun was loaded, and two boys were hurt.
The narrator patches the boys up temporarily and brings them to the native hospital in Nairobi. One of the boys is dead by the time they reach the hospital but the other, whose jaw has been shot off, manages to hold on long enough to receive treatment. Since they boy who shot them ran off, the narrator files a report with the local police station but they do not seem to care about the shooting.
The next day, the narrator is greeted by the old men of the tribe who want to start a Kyama, or a meeting of the elders to resolve the accident. The Kyama will determine who was responsible and what should be done. The narrator does not want to be involved and gets on her horse to ride away.
Riding in the Reserve
The narrator rides to the Masai reserve and enjoys being alone with nature to gather her thoughts. She is saddened and stressed over the shooting although she has been involved in legal settlements on the farm before. But the natives justice system focuses only on how the injured party can be repaid for their suffering, and she does not agree with this.
During another legal battle on the farm, Farah’s brother broke another little boy’s teeth by throwing a stone. Farah’s family agreed to pay the boy’s family fifty camels. Farah felt that this was a light sentence, as the broken teeth might hurt the boy’s future changes for marriage. Another time, a local girl was accidentally killed by one of the coffee carts when she jumped off the back of it while it was in motion. The girl’s parents demanded that the narrator pays them compensation, but she refused.
Despite her disagreement with the native’s policies on justice, the narrator is often held up as the judge of these cases as she is the owner of their land. As she returns home, the narrator meets up with the brothers of the boy who accidentally shot his friends. The brothers say that he has not returned home and they assume that he has either been eaten by a lion or killed himself. The narrator then mourns his loss as well.
The Kyama finally meets to discuss the shootings. The father of the shooter, a man named Kinanu is being held responsible for his son’s crimes. Kinanu is one of the more wealthy squatters on the farm with livestock of his own and five wives. The dead boys father, Jogona is poor and the boy was his only child. During the deliberation, the narrator argues that it was an accident and Kabero was not responsible. The elders disagree and eventually decide that Kaninu has to pay Jogona with forty sheep.
Days later, several Kikuyu’s from another area arrive and claim that they deserve the settlement themselves because of their brother, and not Jogona, is actually Wamai’s real father. Jogona tells this to the narrator, and she types up his account for legal purposes. He tells her that he knew Wamai’s real father and owed him money. The man was dying and he agreed to let Jogona take his wife and son as his own then his debt would be considered paid.
Jogona is glad that his account has been typed up, officially and keeps the note in a leather pouch in order to dismiss anyone’s claims that he does not deserve his settlement. Whenever he sees the narrator he asks her to read the note to him and looks proud as she does so. The narrator discovers that many of the natives are fascinated by the written word. They are awed by written stories, whereas they tend to talk and argue more with spoken stories. Before the Europeans arrived there was no written account in the Swahili language.
The boy who was shot in the jaw, Wanyagerri has his jaw reshaped by the doctors at the hospital and is later even able to eat and speak. The narrator later learns that Kabero did not die and has been adopted by the Masai. She tells his father to bring him to her if he ever returns to the farm. It takes five years, but Kabero does return as an elegant Masai warrior. The narrator thinks that the Masai are the most noble of the local tribes. She also relates that the warriors are said to die if left in jail for more than three months.
Years earlier, the matter of the compensation for Wanyangerri’s shooting was settled when Kaninu gave the boy’s father ten sheep. Later he told the narrator that he was going to give the man a cow as well. The narrator asked him why he would add to the compensation and noticed that he looked ill. He did not answer her but Farah later told her that Wanyangerri’s grandmother put a curse on Kaninu and that his cows have been slowly going blind ever since. Panicking, he started giving away his animals to whoever would take them. That narrator decides to take this matter to the Kikuyu chief, Kinanjui. The narrator is friends with Kinanjui who presides over more than a hundred-thousand Kikuyus.
A Kikuyu Chief
She sends for him, and he arrives in a scarlet-colored car. The narrator’s description of Kinanjui on the day he arrives: “I found Kinanjui sitting up straight in the car, immovable as an idol. He had on a large cloak of blue monkey-skins and on his head a skull-cap, of the kind which the Kikuyu made out of sheep’s stomachs.”
Kinanjui sits down on a large stone and waits for the Kikuyu’s to come to him. Once they are gathered, it is announced that the two fathers have come to an agreement that involves the transfer of ten sheep, one cow, and one calf. The narrator writes up this agreement and seals it with the thumbprint of Wanyangerri’s father as well as Kaninu’s and the Chiefs. The narrator signs it as well.
Book Three – Visitors to the Farm
The natives regularly hold dances called Ngomas which are their largest social functions. During the dances, Kikuyu people dress in ceremonial clothes and dance ritualistically while drums are beaten in a circle around them. During one dance, a group of Masai appear, drawn in by the drums. The situation is tense, as the two tribes have not always been on good terms. The colonial government has also outlawed group dances between the two tribes because of problems in the past.
It is not long before fights begin to break out and three Kikuyus and on Masai are seriously injured. They are cared for, and no one dies. The injured Masai must remain hidden on the farm until he is well enough to return home.
A Visitor from Asia
A Muslim High Priest visits the farm after some of the local Muslim leaders and Farah beg the narrator to host him. The narrator is given one hundred rupees that the Muslims have painstakingly gathered to present to the High Priest. When he arrives, the narrator gives him the rupees, and they sit together although they cannot communicate. They manage to pantomime a conversation, and the narrator finds that she enjoys his company. She gives him the pelt of a lion that was killed recently, and he gives her a pearl ring.
Months later, she receives a request to buy one of her large gray dogs from a prince in India who has heard of them from the High Priest.
The Somali Women
Farah lives with his wife and several other female relatives. The family are Somali and practice the Muslim faith. Because of this, the women are more conservative than the Kikuyu women and preserve their virginity until marriage. The narrator enjoys spending time with the women and once took them to mass at the French Mission. The women enjoyed the mass and the statues of Jesus and Mary, but they did not understand that they were only inanimate objects and would not come to life at night.
Old Knudsen is a Danish sea captain who comes to the farm when he is old and sick. Knudsen suggests several new ways of expanding the farm into different products that will bring in more money. He also helps to build a pond which the natives love because such a pond is a privilege in Africa. Old Knudsen talks with the narrator about adding fish to the pond and he secretly decides to steal fish from a secret location at night. The narrator finds out about the plan and warns him off of it.
After Old Knudsen’s death, the Gaming Department resettles some perch in the pond. On the day Knudsen is to be buried, it rains heavily, and the car is carrying his body is stuck in the mud. The narrator thinks this is a fitting end for the adventurous man.
A Fugitive Rests on the Farm
One night a Swedish man named Emmanuelson shows up at the farm. The narrator knows him from his time working in a hotel restaurant in Nairobi, but she does not like him. Although she did once lend him money. He used to be an actor in Paris. Emmanuelson tells her that he needs to escape Nairobi for reasons that he does not expand on. He is planning to walk through the Masai Reserve to do this, despite the dangers of doing so.
The man stays to have dinner with the narrator and leaves the next morning. Six months later she receives word that he made it to Tanhanyika and befriended the Masai. He returns the money that she lent him. The narrator pictures Emmanuelson using his acting skills to befriend the Masai and is amused.
Visits of Friends
A friend of the narrators, Denys Finch-Hatton, visits the farm with a friend. This pleases the narrator, and the natives are all happy that she is pleased. Denys friend, Berkeley often stay at the farm, and Berekley calls it the narrator’s ‘sylvan retreat.’ Other friends visit, and the narrator feels that they keep the farm’s spirit alive.
The Noble Pioneer
Both Denys and Berkeley have lived in Africa for a long time and both are sons of British lords. Both men are close to the natives and the narrator believes that it is because both her friends and the natives possess a nobility that is universal. Berkeley knows the Masai especially well because he used to help the government deal with them during World War I. He comes to stay with the narrator for a while when he is ill and a doctor tells him that he must stay in bed for a month. The narrator tells him that she will stay to tend to him but Berkeley insists that she go about her normal life. The narrator leaves for a planned trip to Europe and while away she discovers that Berkeley has died.
Denys Finch-Hatton and the narrator go on a safari during which they see a lioness eating a dead giraffe. The narrator tells Denys to shoot it, and he does. They skin the lion and, discovering that the rest of the safari is now too far ahead to catch up with, decide to have a picnic.
At one point, Denys takes the narrator up on a plane, and she gets to see the African landscape from the sky. Denys often flies and lands on the farm. The native people do not like to fly, and one old native man asks the narrator and Denys if they get high up enough to see God. They tell him that they do not.
Book Four – From an Immigrant’s Notebook
The Wild Came to the Aid of the Wild
The farm has an ox that is part wild buffalo. The animal is a crossbreed and cannot be tamed. The farm manager tries to tame him by tying his limbs and leaving him overnight in the paddock. But a lion breaks into the paddock and devours the ox’s leg. The ox then has to be shot, and the narrator recounts that this means that he remained a free soul and was never broken.
In June, the rainy season ends and the nights begin to get cold. Thousands of fireflies begin appearing in the woods around the farm. The narrator thinks that they look like ‘adventurous lonely stars floating in the clear air.’
The Roads of Life
When the narrator was a small child she would often tell stories that were accompanied by small sketches. One such story was of a man who hears a loud noise one night and spends hours pacing his house trying to figure out what made it. After a while, he figures out that the dam on his lake has sprung a leak. He fixes it and goes back to bed but the next morning he sees that his footprints from the night before have made the shape of a stork. A drawing of a stork appears as the story is told and the man realizes that his trial created something beautiful. Remembering this story in Africa makes the narrator wonder if her own movements may be creating a pattern that she cannot yet see.
The farm’s main cook is an older man named Esa. At the beginning of World War I, a government official’s wife insists that Esa leave the farm and return to work for her or else she will tell her husband to have him drafted. Esa immediately agrees so that he will not be drafted. The next time the narrator sees him he confesses to her that he is overworked and exhausted. When the war ends, Esa returns to the farm and remains there until his death.
The farm is often filled with iguana’s who have beautiful iridescent skin. The narrator feels saddened that after the iguanas are killed their skin turns gray. The narrator says that she once saw a beautiful blue bracelet on the arm of a native girl but once she bought it off of her it appeared dull and she realizes that she had only been tricked by the light. She concludes that a person should not kill something unless they know what it will be worth when it is dead.
Farah and the Merchant of Venice
The narrator recounts the story of “The Merchant of Venice” to Farah who tells her that the Shylock in the story would have been able to find his way out of his situation if he had dealt with it better. Farah’s serious thoughts on the subject amuse the narrator, and she sees it as consistent with the serious, detailed nature of a Somali.
The Elite of Bournemouth
One night a native woman nearly dies in childbirth, and the narrator asks a local doctor for help. The woman is saved, but several days later the doctor sends the narrator a letter saying that he will not be helping any more native women. He relates that he knows that the narrator will understand since he once treated patients who were “the elite of Bournemouth”.
The vast wilderness around the farm makes the narrator think about pride. Pride is about having faith that you are becoming what God wants you to be, and a proud man aspires to fulfill his true fate.
The narrator thinks that the oxen have carried the weight of bringing European civilization to Africa. They carry the plows and carts and bear their weight without complaint only to have the men claim the success.
Of the Two Races
The narrator says that the relationship between the white colonials and black natives in Africa resembles the relationship between the sexes. Men and women play an equal part in each other live like the natives, and the Colonials play an equal part and are equally significant to one another.
A War-Time Safari
When World War I breaks out, the narrator goes to a station up the railroad line to help out with the war effort. The government has proposed confining the European women of the area for their safety, but the narrator does not want to do this.
The narrator’s new husband is working in the south by the German border. He needs supplies, and the narrator hires someone to take them who is arrested. She decides to bring them herself. She is on the road for three months with a group of natives as they travel through the Masai Reserve. She is sent home after this but always looks back on this safari as one of her greatest African adventures.
The Swahili Numeral System
For a long time, the narrator believes that the Swahili system of counting is based off multiplying by nines as the system was taught to her by a Swedish man who would refuse to teach her the word for nine as it sounded like a curse word in his language.
I Will Not Let Thee Go Except Thou Bless Me
When the rainy seasons begin, the farmers are so grateful that they pray that it will continue. They often say, “I will not let thee go except thou bless me” which the narrator takes as a motto for her farm.
The Eclipse of the Moon
Shortly before an eclipse, the narrator is written to by a local Indian Stationmaster who tells her that the sun is going to go out for a week and he does not know what to do with his cattle.
Natives and Verse
The natives have very good rhythm but do not know anything about the verse. Sometimes the narrator puts Swahili words to verse and makes them rhyme. The children love this and say that she is “speaking like rain.”
Of the Millennium
A brief passage is included that talks about the return of Christ and the people deciding to ban the crying of “Hosanna.”
A young native boy named Kitosch is severely flogged by a white settler after the settler determines that the boy rode his horse without permission. Kitosch dies, and a trial is held for the settler. During the trail, a friend of Kitosch’s testifies that he willed himself to die and two doctors testify that he died because of his will and not from the beating. However, one doctor who had seen the body said that he died from the abuse and the settler is sentenced to two years in prison.
The narrator finds it beautiful that Kitosch could have willed himself into death. She feels that this is sometimes the only way for Africans to get away from European control.
Some African Birds
The narrator tells a story of a ship journey that she once took with a load of pink flamingos. It was discovered during their trip that they were too delicate to travel and they began dying off one by one.
Pania is the name of one of the narrator’s hunting dogs. One day Pania barks to alert the narrator to a deadly Serval-cat in a tree nearby. The narrator shoots the cat. However, they next time they go hunting together, Pania barks at the same tree and the narrator raises her gun to find that there is no cat this time. Pania barks and the narrator thinks that she is laughing at her.
The cook, Esa, inherits a black cow from his brother’s will. He decides that the cow should help him lure in a new wife, but the narrator thinks this is silly since Esa is old and already has a wife. Esa soon marries a young wife named Fatoma who almost immediately runs away to the barracks of native officers in Nairobi. Esa must go and fetch her. Soon after this, Fatoma poisons Esa and he dies. She disappears and is never held accountable.
Of Natives and History
The narrator believes that Africans and Europeans are almost in two separate times in history since one culture is so much more modernized than the other. Because Africans are not as modernized, they cannot join the Europeans easily. She sees the two worlds as being on separate planes and has no idea of how this could be resolved.
One year at Christmastime, an earthquake shakes the farm. The narrator’s servant, Juma thinks that this event signals the death of the King of England, but they later discover that it does not.
On a ship back to Africa, the narrator meets a little boy called George who invites her to tea with the other English people. She warns him that she is not English, but he still wants her to come.
The narrator has a riding mule called Molly that a native caretaker has dubbed “Kejiko”. This word means “the spoon” in Swahili. Initially, the narrator does not understand why the caretaker would call her this, but once she sees Molly from overhead, she realizes that her fat body does look like a spoon.
The Giraffes Go to Hamburg
Once while the narrator is in Monbasa, Kenya she sees some giraffes waiting on a cargo ship. They are being sent to Hamburg to later become part of a menagerie. The narrator is saddened to think about such noble creatures being shipped to a dirty European city to be gawked at and she hopes that they will die before they get there.
In the Menagerie
A passage about a Count named Schimmelmann grew obsessed with a menagerie in Hamburg. He thought the owner was an idiot and criticized the weakness of the animals. The owner thought they possessed an innate strength even when they are on the plains where only God can see them.
While on another boat, the narrator meets a Belgian man and an Englishman. The Belgian man runs a mission in the Congo. He feels that the natives should only be taught how, to be honest and do work and nothing else.
The Naturalist and the Monkeys
The narrator meets a Swedish Professor of Natural History whose research involves killing over a thousand monkeys. However, he is only allowed to shoot six by the Game Department. The Professor tells the narrator that he has begun believing in God and wonders if God believes in him.
A young boy named Karomenya lives on the farm in near solitude. He is deaf and dumb and is unable to manage household chores. The narrator gives him a whistle, and the object astounds Karomenya since it makes the dogs run to him. She sees him playing with the whistle and the dogs for a while but eventually he does not have the whistle anymore, and she assumes that he lost it. She thinks that Karomenya will suffer on earth but go straight to heaven when he dies.
A man named Pooran Singh is the farm’s blacksmith. The narrator likes to watch him work with the fire as do the natives. Pooran sends all of his money back home to Indian for his children’s education. This causes the narrator to see him in a noble light, and she quotes an ancient Greek verse to honor him.
A Strange Happening
The narrator, Farah and one of her dogs are on the Masai Reserve when she spys a herd of animals running toward them. Farah sees that it is a pack of wild dogs and the natives believe that such animals are bad omens. They remain nearby to watch the dogs run by and try to determine why they are migrating. The narrator relates that few people that she tells this story ever to believe it.
A passage about an old Danish ship owner who travels as a young man to a brothel in Singapore. He meets a woman there who has an old parrot that she obtained as a young girl. It can speak many different words, but it repeats one thing that she doesn’t understand. The boy hears it repeat a line in Greek from a Sappho poem and translates it for the woman.
Book Five – Farewell to the Farm
The farm was never actually set up for growing coffee, and it is at too high of an altitude for it. In addition to this, the coffee prices suddenly drop. The European investors want the narrator to sell it. The narrator does not want to and routinely thinks up different money-making ventures for the farm, like having a dairy and growing flax. But none of the new ventures work and this causes a lot of stress and dread for the narrator.
Two years before she leaves Africa, the coffee production falls far short of the mark on the same year that a plague of grasshoppers descends. The narrator finally agrees to sell the farm and sells it to a company in Nairobi. The squatters know of the farm’s money trouble and often come and sit by the farmhouse at night which comforts the narrator.
Death of Kinanjui
Chief Kinanjui, the head of the Kikuyus, passes away this same year. Kinanjui was fatally injured by a wound that became gangrenous. The narrator is called to his deathbed and he requests that she take him to the farm to die. The Christian doctors from the Scotch Mission want to take him to their hospital to die but he does not want to do this. The narrator is reluctant because she feels that this will put Kinanjui’s death on her hands. She tells him that she cannot take him back with her and bids him goodbye. He dies that night at the Mission hospital and she later goes to his funeral. Farah is upset with her for not honoring the Chief’s last wish, but they never discuss it.
The Grave in the Hills
Likewise, the narrator and Denys do not discuss her impending departure. They set up a lunch date one day, but Denys does not appear. The narrator goes into Nairobi and discovers that he was killed in a plane crash. She asks to retrieve his body because they once found a burial place in the Ngong Hills. She holds a funeral and many European and native friends come for the service. The narrator marks the grave with large stones. Many years later, Lord Windchilsea, Denys’s brother, marks the grave with an obelisk inscribed with “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.”
Farah and I Sell Out
The new owners of the farm agree to let the narrator stay until she is ready to leave. The narrator sells and gives away most of her things and sells her horses and dogs with the help of Farah. Pooran Singh cries when he discovers that the farm is closing. The narrator buys him a gold ring as a parting gift, and he returns to India.
The new owners have given the native squatters only six months to leave the land. This is upsetting to them as many of them have lived there their whole lives and they are not allowed to own any property under the Colonial law. The natives want to be able to stay together and move themselves and their cattle somewhere else. The narrator spends months begging the office of Colonials for help with this request and they eventually honor it by letting them move to a space on the Dagoretti Forest Reserve. The natives take this news with stoicism, and the narrator is upset that they cannot remain on their land. But once they are resettled she feels that it is time for her to go.
In the final story of the novel, the old Kikuyu men hold a Ngoma dance in honor of the narrator. This is a rare occurrence as the Ngoma are not usually attended by old men. Native men from all over arrive dressed in their finest clothes. However, just as the dance gets started, a messenger appears from Nairobi reminding them that such dances are forbidden. The narrator must end the dance, and she feels bitterness that she has never felt before at the Colonial government.
The day that the narrator is to leave finally arrives and she bids goodbye to everyone on the farm, stopping at the pond before heading into Nairobi. Many European and native friends come to the train station to see her off. Later, the train stops at a station down the line, and she and Farah walk onto the platform. She sees the Ngong Hills behind her in the distance with the land leveling off around them.
The Narrator – the narrator of the novel never gives her name and her true identity as Baroness Karen Blixen is only obtained through subtle hints. For the story, the narrator tries only the be a storyteller. In doing this, she paints a very poetic picture of the African landscape and the characters that she met while living there. She makes sure to pay little attention to her part in the stories.
However, the narrator does have a personality, and she does employ her representations and prejudices in her telling. She uses many of the stories as soapboxes for her philosophical ideas. One of these is that certain people of any race possess an innate aristocratic nobility, such as Denys and the Masai warriors.
The narrators tendency to philosophize in this way reveal her as a kind and gentle woman who wants to make greater sense of the world around her. Although she does suffer from the elitism and snobbery of the European Colonials of the time. During the war, the narrator refuses to be cooped up with the other European women for her safety and instead leads a wagon train across dangerous territory. This proves her to be an adventurous person who is interested in living life to it’s fullest. This is also proven by her skill at shooting and her love of hunting, two activities that were not common in women of this time. She expresses a desire to become a mythical hero like Old Knudsen and wishes to have his kind of stories.
In the final sections of the book, the narrator’s despair at Denys’s death and leaving Africa are more obvious than in the lighter tone of the opening stories. Overall, the narrator earns the readers sympathy although some of her ideas may have aged over the years since the book was published.
Farah – the narrator’s head servant. Farah is a Somali man. He is also the narrator’s closest confidant and helps run the farm. Farah is probably the narrator’s closest companion in Africa although he is a servant. She interacts with no one else as much and seems to trust no one else as much. Farah is revealed to be worthy of this trust and an upright man who is devoted to his Muslim faith. Though he has five wives, he takes good care of them.
Farah goes along with the narrator’s idea of the aristocratic native as he tends to look down on the people around him. He thinks that the Kikuyu are lazy because they do not share his discipline. However, Farah is also a man who cares about his mistress, the narrator and tries to protect her. In the narrator’s final days in Africa, Farah wears his nicest clothes to help her with selling her furniture and cattle. In the end, he travels with her at least till the next station to see her off.
Kamante – he is a native boy who first appears when the narrator singles him out for having sores on his legs. After he returns from the hospital, he is a changed person, having converted to Christianity. After this, Kamante becomes more of a comic figure in the novel. The narrator often tells about some of his funnier misunderstandings for comedic relief, such as when he misunderstands how a book is published.
Karen Blixen Biography
Baroness Karen Von Blixen-Finecke was born on April 17th, 1885 in Rungsted, Denmark as Karen Dinesen. The daughter of two wealthy merchant’s children, Karen had three sisters and two brothers, all of whom shared a privileged childhood. Unfortunately, this ended when Karen’s father committed suicide when she was only ten years old. After this, Karen’s life changed significantly as her brothers were sent away to attend school while she began being educated at home by her maternal grandmother and her aunt.
When Karen was a child, she began telling stories to her younger sister that were inspired by Danish folk tales. Soon after this, she began to write poems, plays and short stories and publishing them under the pen name Osceloa which was the name of her father’s dog.
In 1902, she attended the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts. While she was in her twenties, she began spending time with her cousin’s family in Skane, Sweden and eventually married her cousin Baron Bror Blixen-Finecke and she became Baroness Blixen-Finecke. The two had trouble settling in Denmark, and it was suggested that they move to their uncle’s coffee farm in Kenya.
It was while living on this farm, the name of which was M’Bogani, which Karen began writing what would later be her most well-known novel, “Out of Africa.” Karen began running the farm while her husband spent most of his time on safari and continued to run it through the outbreak of World War I.
Karen and her husband did not get along, and he requested a divorce from her in 1920 which was granted against her wishes in 1925. After this Karen Blixen officially took over the farms management from her uncle. Karen eventually met an English big game hunter by the name of Denys Finch-Hatton whom she began a love affair with until his death in a plane crash in 1931. At this same time, the coffee farm failed in part due to the Great Depression, and Blixen was forced to sell it.
Karen returned to Rungstedlund to live with her mother where she began to write in earnest. Her first novel, “Seven Gothic Tales” was published in the U.S. In 1934 under the pen name Isak Dinesen. The book was very successful and her second novel, “Out of Africa” (1937) became even more so. Over her lifetime, Karen published seven novels with another seven being published posthumously. The initial seven included an allegory on the horrors of Nazism published during World War II.
In 1960, at the age of 75, Karen began writing a sequel to “Out of Africa” called, “Shadows on the Grass” which contained more stories from her time in Africa. It was the last book she published during her lifetime and revealed, among other things, the vigil that her African staff kept in her house for years after she left.
Karen died on September 7th, 1962 in Rungsted, Denmark from complications due to syphilis that is believed to have been given to her by her husband forty years before. She is still thought of as a national literary hero in Denmark, and a museum exists under her name in Nairobi.