Literature Study GuidesOut Of AfricaPart 1 Chapter 2 Summary

Out of Africa | Study Guide

Isak Dinesen

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Out of Africa | Part 1, Chapter 2 : Kamante and Lulu (A Native Child) | Summary

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Summary

One day, the narrator is out riding across the plain and comes upon a Kikuyu boy herding his people's goats. He is small and bone-thin, and his stick-like legs are covered with deep running sores. His eyes are dim, like those "of a dead person," and she wonders that "so much suffering" could be so narrowly concentrated. His name is Kamante, and he is the son of a squatter. The narrator instructs him to come to her house the next morning for help.

Most every morning, she offers first aid to the people on the farm. Though she knows very little of doctoring, her lucky cures have earned her renown and the respect of the Kikuyu. To her surprise, Kamante shows up and allows himself to be treated. But despite all her efforts, his wounds will not heal. The narrator determines the boy must go to Church of Scotland Mission hospital for treatment.

During this time, Kamante bears his pain stoically. He is a "wild creature ... isolated from the world," cut off by his suffering. The move to the hospital frightens him, though he permits it and stays to be cured. Upon returning to the farm on the morning of Easter Sunday, he dramatically unwinds his old leg bandages to reveal his healthy legs. He also reveals that he has become a Christian, like the narrator.

From that day forward, Kamante comes into her service, attaching his fate to hers. As time goes on, she discovers that he is a clever and caring medical assistant, a skilled cook, and sensitive to animals. He is thoughtful and protective of her, yet he remains an isolated figure, something of a misfit. She notes that "early in his life something in him had been twisted or locked." Kamante provides his unique, sometimes puzzling service until the narrator leaves Africa, twelve years later.

Analysis

The story of Kamante provides a glimpse into the life and mind of the natives living on the farm. It explores the differences between the beliefs and perspectives of Europeans and Africans, while providing a deeper look at Blixen's unique view of the colonial world she inhabits.

Like most of the natives living on the farm, Kamante is a Kikuyu. During his illness, he demonstrates the stoicism and courage with which the Kikuyu typically bear suffering. In Blixen's words, his "fortitude of soul in the face of pain was the fortitude of an old warrior." As Blixen notes, the Kikuyu and Europeans differ in their response to "the assaults of fate." Europeans will go to great lengths to ensure safety and security and to avoid pain. The Kikuyu expect no such utopian existence. As a preindustrialized people exposed to the unjust cruelties of the natural world, they believe that life's upheavals and misery cannot be escaped any more than its blessings and joy. To them, God and the Devil are unified rather than distinct beings. Thus, the Lord is as likely to send destructive swarms of grasshoppers as to send bountiful crops.

This point of view is at the core of the Kikuyus' expectation for an uncertain outcome to Blixen's medical treatment of their ailments. Because daily existence is filled with risks and possibilities, the outcome of any treatment is subject to the Lord's whimsical wishes. Therefore, the frequent success of her cures proves to the Kikuyu that the Lord is on her side. On the other hand, a doctor with a perfect record of cures and highly esteemed by Europeans is open to question in Africa. Perfection is an illusion that cannot be trusted.

In providing medical care for the natives on her farm, Blixen demonstrates compassion and a desire to step past the expected boundary that divides Europeans from Africans. She is an aristocrat and a colonizer, yet she is also aware of the racial inequalities existing in Africa and does what she can to balance things out, such as helping Kamante.

Out of Africa is special in its treatment of native people. In colonial literature, such as the highly popular Tarzan stories of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Africans are rarely the focal point and far more commonly relegated to the background. The possibility of the African as a distinct individual, with unique characteristics, is usually overlooked. Within the memoir, Blixen breaks this mold, as her story of Kamante illustrates. While her language may reflect the place and time in which her stories are written, she expresses respect for individuals like Kamante and makes an effort to understand the native culture.

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