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Literature Study GuidesOut Of AfricaPart 3 Chapter 3 Summary

Out of Africa | Study Guide

Isak Dinesen

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Out of Africa | Part 3, Chapter 3 : Visitors to the Farm (The Somali Women) | Summary



Farah—the narrator's Somali majordomo—lives on the farm with his Somali wife and her mother, younger sister, and cousin. A young motherless girl completes this special circle of permanent guests. Being Somali, they are Muslims and carefully follow the tenets of their religion. The women dress conservatively, practice modesty, and guard their virginity until after marriage. Each has a highly developed sense of her own value and acts accordingly, presenting an "exquisite dignity and demureness" that impresses Blixen. The family will arrange the girls' marriages in keeping with their status and after negotiating a bride price.

Often at day's end, the narrator enjoys spending time with the women in Farah's house. They amuse her with fairy tales "in the style of the Arabian Nights." She, in turn, satisfies their curiosity about European customs, especially those relating to the manners, education, and clothes of ladies. They find it appalling and disrespectful that European women do not receive a bride-price when they marry.

Discussions sometimes turn to religion, and the exchange of ideas leads the narrator to invite the women to visit the French Mission. While the visit goes well, the women do not understand that the life-sized statues of the Virgin Mary and St. Joseph are inanimate objects and unable to move.


Building her tapestry of tales, Blixen shares the role of storyteller with Farah's family of Somali women. On these occasions, the women conjure a timeless presence, a female ideal out of the past, "before the time of the Prophet's God" imprisoned her. Isolated by gender and enclosed in a women's world created by religion and society, this ideal prepares for a future—the millennium—when women will once more reign supreme. Blixen recognizes the prison from her knowledge of conventional attitudes toward European women.

The Somali women's visit to the French Mission offers another contrast in perspectives. In this vignette, a modern church is seen with fresh eyes. Having never been in such a lofty building, the women are afraid it could fall down on them. In addition, the life-sized statues inspire their awe, and the images in the windows captivate them. Blixen's descriptions of the women's perspective is neither mocking nor condescending. She highlights the freshness of their appreciation for things taken for granted by Europeans. Much like the story of Jogona and the power of the written word in Part 2, this story shines a light on the remarkable nature of a stone building or a beautiful statue—things of the modern world. There is sweetness in the women's idea that the statues, so beautifully lifelike, may indeed be alive. In the world of Scheherazade, this would be so.

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