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Literature Study GuidesOut Of AfricaPart 4 Chapters 1 4 Summary

Out of Africa | Study Guide

Isak Dinesen

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Out of Africa | Part 4, Chapters 1–4 : From an Immigrant's Notebook | Summary



Chapter 1: The Wild Came to the Aid of the Wild

The farm manager purchases several crossbred oxen that are a hybrid mix of wild buffalo and domestic Masai cattle. The animals are difficult to train for plowing. One fights all efforts to be tamed. To break his spirit, the manager binds the animal's feet together and leaves him lying helpless in a pasture. That night, a leopard eats off one of the animal's leg. The ox must be shot.

Chapter 2: The Fireflies

After the rains, in the first week of June, fireflies fill the woods with their mysterious light. Their tiny fires dart about the woods like the magic flames of enchanted candlesticks in the hands of joyously running children.

Chapter 3: The Road of Life

The narrator recalls a favorite childhood story that is accompanied by a drawing. One night, a man hears a terrible sound and rushes out of his house to find the cause. He wanders around endlessly, stumbling and falling into ditches. Eventually, he discovers that the dam on his pond is leaking. He repairs the hole and goes back to bed. In the morning, he discovers that his wandering footprints actually traced a beautiful pattern—they drew a stork. The narrator wonders if the movements of her life will likewise trace a meaningful pattern that she can see. If so, what picture will the design reveal?

Chapter 4: Esa's Story

Esa is the narrator's highly valued Kikuyu cook. In the last year of the war, his former employer—the wife of a government official—tells the narrator that she wants Esa back. She threatens to have him sent into the dreaded Carrier Corps if he refuses. In fear, Esa returns to his old mistress. The narrator sees him once during that year, and Esa admits that he is overworked and worn out. When news of the armistice reaches Nairobi, Esa immediately quits and comes back to the farm, where he stays with the narrator until he dies.


This fourth section of Out of Africa is noticeably different from the others. As the section title suggests, these are notebook-style sketches and anecdotes, presented without chronology and with no apparent connecting theme. Yet they reveal a great deal about the author—what catches her attention and how she interprets what she sees or experiences. The stories are like stones in a mosaic: a collection of unique colored tiles that create a whole picture. Many touch on themes developed elsewhere in the book, adding a layer of richness and deepening the reader's understanding of the world that the narrator presents.

In "The Wild Came to the Aid of the Wild," Blixen explores the clash of opposites: wild versus tame; rebellion versus submission. The ox is a hybrid, a mixture of wild and domestic, a crossbreed that refuses to tame to the yoke. Others could be tamed, but he could not. He represents rebellion, embodiment of the idea that it is better to die than to submit to a life as a beast of burden. His relationship with the manager suggests the relationship between the African and the European colonist. He represents the possibility that Africans may not continue to meekly submit to a life of servitude. The manager—intent on breaking the spirit of the ox—takes on the role of the British colonists. Blixen's sympathies are with the ox. In her view, the leopard does the ox a favor by saving him from a broken life under the yoke.

While "The Wild Came to the Aid of the Wild" illustrates the brutal, if useful, reality of nature, "The Fireflies" conveys its charm. The tiny insects bring joy and magic to the night, their innocence underscored by Blixen's linking them to children playing.

"The Roads of Life" becomes most significant later in the memoir, when Blixen wishes to discover a pattern in what has happened to her. The story contains the comforting message that life has a design, though it may not be evident in any given present. In the story, the seemingly aimless wandering of the man creates the beautiful image of a stork. Similarly, the meandering nature of life's course may be necessary to make it a work of art. This perspective on life provides Blixen with a strategy for coping with misfortune, though she will not see the entire design until it is finished.

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