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Literature Study GuidesOut Of AfricaPart 4 Chapters 30 32 Summary

Out of Africa | Study Guide

Isak Dinesen

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Out of Africa | Part 4, Chapters 30–32 : From an Immigrant's Notebook | Summary



Chapter 30: Pooran Singh

Pooran Singh is the artisan of all work on the farm, from carpenter and saddler to blacksmith. Working at the forge with its flaming furnace, he is a mythic figure, hammering raw, white-hot iron into the tools of civilization. The Kikuyu like to gather at the forge to watch Pooran Singh work and listen to the rhythmic song of his hammer. The narrator herself hears poetry in his work. He is well paid, but he lives an ascetic's life, sending all his money back to India for his children's education.

Chapter 31: A Strange Happening

One time on safari, the narrator, her hunting dog Dusk, and Farah are trekking over the Masai Reserve at midday, with more natives trailing behind. The air is vibrating with heat and filled with mirages. Suddenly, the plain's horizon begins to move as a herd of animals bears down upon them. At first, in the dancing heat, they cannot see what is coming. Then Farah identifies the moving throng as wild dogs—500 or so—traveling fast and with purpose, as if they had been frightened. They move aside from Blixen and her companions and keep running. The narrator cannot explain the phenomenon, and the natives take it as a very bad omen. Since then, when she tells the tale, she finds that few people believe it.

Chapter 32: The Parrot

An old Danish shipowner recalls a time when, at the age of 16, he traveled to Singapore on his father's ship. He accompanied a sailor to a brothel and met an elderly Chinese woman who owned a very old parrot. It had been given to her by a lover during her youth and could speak many languages. However, it said one thing she could not understand. Upon listening, the boy realized that the parrot was quoting a poem by Sappho in ancient Greek. It is a sad verse about being alone in the darkest hours of the night. The woman, hearing it, nodded.


These anecdotes bring Part 4 to a close. In "Pooran Singh," Blixen reverts to the storyteller, painting the portrait of the farm blacksmith in the shades of a myth, echoing the myth of Thor and his hammer. In his mastery over raw metals, she sees the history of civilization, with the plow, the sword, the cannon, and the wheel symbolizing advances in farming, security, conquest, and mobility. In the rhythmic beating of the hammer, she hears the original and oldest form of music. The rhythm of the hammer is like the rain of rhymes. With compressed and concentrated energy, it speaks to people with an ancient voice, to which something deep in them responds.

In "A Strange Happening," there are suggestions of the supernatural and a sense of foreboding. The natives see ill omens in the fast-traveling throng of wild dogs, while the narrator cannot find other people who will believe the event took place. As a prelude to Part 5, the anecdote might serve to signal a change of tone in the narrative. Blixen's life is about to darken with mounting tragedies.

With the lines of poetry by Sappho, the fictional anecdote "The Parrot" introduces an additional note of melancholy into the narrative. Sappho was a teacher and poet born on the Greek isle of Lesbos around 610 BCE. She was regarded as a great lyric poet, and Plato called her "the tenth muse." However, only one of her poems survives intact; the rest are fragments. Her poetry speaks simply and directly of love, one person to another. The lines of Sappho's poetry repeated by the parrot reflect feelings of isolation and loneliness. They lead into the next section of the book, in which Blixen describes the loss of the farm, a friend, her love, and her freedom. Like the speaker in the poem, like the old woman who nodded when she finally understood the words, she is left alone.

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