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Literature Study GuidesOut Of AfricaPart 1 Chapter 1 Summary

Out of Africa | Study Guide

Isak Dinesen

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Out of Africa | Part 1, Chapter 1 : Kamante and Lulu (The Ngong Farm) | Summary


Out of Africa is divided into five parts, named: "Kamante and Lulu," "A Shooting Accident on the Farm," "Visitors to the Farm," "From an Immigrant's Notebook," and "Farewell to the Farm." The five parts are further broken down into chapters that have names, rather than numbers. Some of these chapters have been combined in this study guide for the purpose of analysis.


The beginning words, "I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong Hills," open the door to the narrator's memories of Africa and her life on a coffee farm. The farm is located over 6,000 feet above a landscape colored in the dry, burnt shades of pottery. The trees, with their wide-spreading foliage, might be ships with their sails hauled up, and the grass-covered plains are flower-scented and spiced. The air itself is unique to Africa, with ever-changing clouds sailing the pale blue sky, and the air alive and dancing with heat during the day. Everything seems to be made "for greatness and freedom."

The farmland is positioned too high for growing coffee, and it is a long, often difficult process from planting to shipping the harvest. Six hundred acres of land are planted with 600 trees each. These take four to five years to begin bearing fruit, during which time drought or disease may destroy the crop. Once the coffee is harvested, it is dried in the farm factory, sewn up in sacks, and carted off to Nairobi for shipment to London. Work on the farm is performed by natives, called squatters, who live on a thousand acres of the farm they called their shambas. In return for use of the land, they agree to provide a set number of days of labor each year on the coffee farm. The rest of the land is left to native forest and grassland.

The nearest town is Nairobi, an assortment of "fine new stone buildings" and "old corrugated iron shops, offices and bungalows." It is the center of government, business, shopping, and news. Just outside the town are communities where native Swahili, immigrant Somali, and the Indians of Nairobi live.

Recalling her days on safari, the narrator says it is here she learned patience and caught the rhythm of Africa. These qualities aid her in dealing with the natives, whom she describes as "Africa in flesh and blood." Though she feels great affection for them, she also feels she will never know or quite understand them—though they seem to know her through and through. It is as if their life runs parallel to hers, but on a different plane.


In this opening chapter, Blixen's love of her home and farm in Africa is immediately apparent. She presents a landscape of raw, unequaled beauty, describing it as "Africa distilled up through six thousand feet, like the strong and refined essences of a continent." With the eyes of an artist, she sees and describes a vast region of pastoral splendor where a person can breathe easily and will awake every morning with the thought, "Here I am, where I ought to be." This artistic viewpoint—apparent throughout the book—was developed early on, when she studied painting at the Danish Royal Academy of Fine Arts and later in Paris. With an artist's sense of shapes and colors, she often describes nature and the land in terms of mosaics and tapestries. Lyrical accounts of the play between light and shadow, shifts in color, and changing perspectives add movement and vitality to these scenes.

For Blixen, the native people are as much a product of the land as the trees and animals. They are an organic outgrowth of this pastoral, preindustrialized region of the world, and she finds them noble. She looks upon meeting them as a discovery, "a magnificent enlargement of all my world."

It is helpful to keep in mind that Blixen grew up in a patriarchal culture, which demanded that a woman be prim, sheltered, and restrained. At the same time, she was exposed to some unconventional thinking through her father and his family and her reading, and that background may help explain why she boldly married on an unknown continent and plunged into the mix of cultures comprising British colonial Africa. Though unprepared for the enormous challenges of farming, she embraced Africa as a place "made for greatness and freedom, and unequalled nobility."

Out of Africa has been described as a "prose pastoral." Pastoral literature romanticizes the simple, rural life, the more primitive state in which man and nature live in harmony. Blixen's poetic word pictures in this and subsequent chapters suggest that the Africa she remembers is a paradise found, though one that is eventually lost—a theme throughout the book. However, for a moment in time her romantic expectations come true, and, according to Dinesen scholar Robert Langbaum, giving her in Africa "a kind of life that prevailed in Europe before the Industrial Revolution which ... cut Europeans off from nature and the past."

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