Literature Study GuidesOut Of AfricaPart 4 Chapters 21 25 Summary

Out of Africa | Study Guide

Isak Dinesen

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Out of Africa | Part 4, Chapters 21–25 : From an Immigrant's Notebook | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 21: Of Natives and History

Everything people produce is a product of the age—the time and place—in which it appears. From beliefs and ideas to practical items, the things produced are a response to the needs of a society as it changes and progresses. The narrator muses that Africans have not modernized in the way that Europeans have because their culture, over time, has responded to different needs. It's as if they are passing through an earlier phase of history. Given time, they will progress through the necessary phases to reach industrialization. In the meantime, they will have their dreamers, philosophers, and poets.

Chapter 22: The Earthquake

One year, an earthquake hits the farm in three short shocks. By the third jolt, the narrator recovers her wits enough to enjoy the event from a new perspective. She feels delight in the movement of land reckoned immovable. It is like a secret law revealed: The earth may seem dead and fixed, and yet it moves ("eppur si muove").

Chapter 23: George

George is a six-year-old boy whom the narrator meets on a ship to Africa. He invites her to join some other English ladies at his birthday tea party. The narrator gravely warns him that she is not English, but a Hottentot—a South African tribe of nomadic hunter-gatherers. Just as gravely, he replies that he still wants her to come.

Chapter 24: Kejiko

The narrator's fat riding mule, Molly, is given the Swahili name Kejiko by a stablehand. The name means "the spoon." The narrator is unable to understand the nickname until she views Molly while perched high behind her on a cart. From this perspective, the mule's shape is very much like a spoon. She concludes that God himself would agree, as He shares the same vantage point.

Chapter 25: The Giraffes Go to Hamburg

While visiting Mombasa, an island off the coast of Kenya, the narrator sees two giraffes slated to become part of a traveling menagerie ready for shipment to Hamburg, Germany. Thinking of their future in cramped, dirty cages while people gawk at them, she wonders if they will forlornly dream of Africa. She hopes they will die on the voyage, thus escaping their terrible fate.

Analysis

In "Of Natives and History," Blixen offers her personal perspective on time, progress, and the world's march toward modernization. She sees the new era of "motor-cars and airplanes" as the inevitable result of progress and assumes that Africa will move in this direction, stage by stage, in its own time. In the meantime, it is unrealistic to expect Africans to appreciate modern things achieved by others. Modernization is a process, and to value the results, Africans must experience the struggle firsthand. As a natural step in this evolution, Africa must be allowed to have its dreamers, philosophers, and poets to pave the way.

"The Earthquake" and "Kejiko" are lighthearted explorations of shifting perspectives. The quote "Eppur si muove" ("and yet it moves"), cited in "The Earthquake," is attributed to Galileo, the Italian scientist who was forced by the Roman Catholic Church to recant his claim that the earth revolves around the sun. Applied to the quaking earth, Blixen finds hope in the idea that something seemingly immovable can be thrown into motion. Might other things in life that seem fixed be made to move? For a visual shift in perspective, Blixen offers "Kejiko" and suggests that what a thing looks like depends on where you sit.

"George" presents a child who, in innocence, will not pass judgment on someone who is presumed different. This seems to mirror Blixen's own view on prejudice.

"The Giraffes Go to Hamburg" touches on Blixen's loathing for confinement and her belief that what is free by nature should remain so. In Africa, Blixen finds release from European social conventions and modernity. In an earlier anecdote, "A War-Time Safari," she tells how the idea of confinement in a concentration camp for European ladies terrified her. Having slipped from the physical and spiritual restraints of her culture, Blixen felt she would die if imprisoned again. In line with this, she empathizes with the giraffes trapped in their cramped, dirty boxes and destined for Hamburg. Escape through death would be better than the misery, pain, and imprisonment that is their fate. She expresses similar sentiments in the stories of the hybrid ox and the native boy Kitosch.

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