Literature Study GuidesOut Of AfricaPart 4 Chapters 17 20 Summary

Out of Africa | Study Guide

Isak Dinesen

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Out of Africa | Part 4, Chapters 17–20 : From an Immigrant's Notebook | Summary



Chapter 17: Kitosch

Kitosch is a young African boy who works for a white settler. When he rides the white man's horse against orders, the man severely beats him, ties him up, and leaves him overnight in his store. Kitosch dies in the night. A court hearing is held to determine the degree of the man's guilt. Was it murder, manslaughter, or grievous hurt? Much rests on establishing the intentions of the settler. Did he intend to kill the boy?

His intent is not obvious. However, Kitosch, in his unbearable suffering, had confided to another servant his wish to die. Two doctors from Nairobi testify that Kitosch died because he wanted to. However, the District Surgeon, who did the postmortem, testifies that the boy died from the flogging. The "wish-to-die" theory sways the jury. The settler, found guilty of grievous hurt, is sentenced to two years.

In Kitosch's story, the narrator sees purposeful misunderstanding in the tragedy of colonialism. Colonialism can destroy the African people.

Chapter 18: Some African Birds

The narrator describes some of the birds of Africa, which include nightingales, storks, plovers, crested cranes, and great hornbills. Their distinctive coloration and characteristics add a storybook touch to the forests and plains. Once, on a ship to Europe, the narrator learns that a cargo of pink flamingos is aboard. Crowded in dirty cages, the delicate birds cannot survive the rough trip, and as many as two per day die.

Chapter 19: Pania

In Blixen's fanciful world, deerhounds have a sense of humor, acquired from living with people. Once, the narrator's hound, Pania, warns her of a chicken-stealing serval-cat in a tree, which she shoots. Sometime later, they again pass the tree, and Pania barks out an alarm. When the narrator prepares to shoot another serval-cat, she finds that it is only an angry domestic cat in the tree. Looking at Pania, she is sure that the hound is laughing, tickled that his mistress has fallen for the joke. At times thereafter, he seems to laugh in his sleep, perhaps remembering the prank.

Chapter 20: Esa's Death

Esa, the narrator's old Kikuyu cook, is a quiet man unused to happiness. When he inherits a cow, he uses this good fortune to take a new wife. His joy is short-lived. The bride, Fatoma, is young, hard, and sulky. Within a month, she runs off to live with the native soldiers in the barracks of Nairobi. Time after time, she leaves, and Esa brings her back. At last, she poisons him and disappears for good. When a meeting is held on what to do, it is decided that Fatoma should be left to her chosen fate in the barracks of Nairobi.


Three of these anecdotes stand on their own as interesting ideas. However, "Kitosch" stands out as a troubling account of colonial practices. It is to Blixen's credit that the episode is included. In the body of colonial literature, the story is unique in its depiction of white-on-black violence. Blixen's British publisher asked her to remove the episode, fearing it would harm the British reputation at home and abroad. Blixen refused. By including it, she intended to embarrass the colonials and force them to reflect on the shameful nature of the episode.

Blixen's stand against the publisher is not surprising. Her years in Africa were marked by demonstrations of genuine respect for culturally diverse people and distaste for the harsh treatment they endured under British rule. In fact, her pronative position frequently put her at odds with the colonial establishment. "Kitosch" was intended as a strong political statement against the regime's practices.

Yet, for some critics, Blixen's controlled, matter-of-fact reporting of the incident implies approval for what happened to Kitosch. She is, after all, a part of the colonial enterprise that spawned such a crime. However, Blixen understood her intended audience and knew how shocking exposure to this brutal aspect of colonial rule would be. While she refrains from an outright condemnation of the event, her frank report paints a raw picture of the beating and death. Her description of the legal proceedings casts the white settler and two doctors in a pitiless light. Blixen expected her readers to perceive these things and share her outrage.

At the end of the story, Blixen addresses her assumed audience, saying, "It seems to you, as you read the case through, a strange and humiliating fact that the Europeans should not, in Africa, have the power to throw the African out of existence." This direct accusation is followed by the assertion that colonials, despite their abuses of power, will not win. Africa will always belong to the African people, and they will remain fundamentally free and out of reach of another's rule.

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