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Literature Study GuidesOut Of AfricaPart 4 Chapters 5 8 Summary

Out of Africa | Study Guide

Isak Dinesen

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Out of Africa | Part 4, Chapters 5–8 : From an Immigrant's Notebook | Summary



Chapter 5: The Iguana

Once, the narrator shoots one of the many iguanas that live on the farm. She admires the radiant, iridescent colors of its skin and thinks she might make something pretty from it. In death, the skin quickly turns gray and dull. The brilliant hues require the life-blood pumping through the living animal. In a similar fashion, she once admired a turquoise beaded bracelet worn by a young native girl. She bought it, but as soon as it was on her own arm, its beauty faded. She realized that the bracelet's lovely blues and greens need the dark skin of the girl to give them life.

Chapter 6: Farah and the Merchant of Venice

In a letter from a friend, the narrator learns about a new staging of Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice. The news sparks vivid memories of the play, and the narrator calls in Farah to hear the plot and talk it over. He listens carefully, weighs the issues, and concludes that Shylock should not have given up. He could have gotten his pound of flesh—as it was legally his—if he had managed it carefully. Farah's strong sense of justice is offended by Shylock's defeat.

Chapter 7: The Elite of Bournemouth

One night, the narrator sends for a nearby neighbor, who is a doctor. A female native on the farm is about to die in childbirth. Though he saves the woman's life, the doctor makes it clear that this service will not be repeated. He once treated the elite of Bournemouth, a resort town on England's southern coast. As the narrator will surely understand, he cannot make a habit of treating natives.

Chapter 8: Of Pride

The presence of wild animals is strongly felt on the farm. They project a fierce inherent pride. In the civilized world, pride is faith in God's plan for the individual. A proud man aspires to realize this plan and fulfill his destiny. People without pride, with no sense of destiny, rely on others to provide their sense of self, or they exist with no sense of self at all. A civilized being honors his pride and respects the pride of others. In this way, pride is at the core of nobility. It is a confidence in personal identity and purpose—a sense of dignity—that allows an individual to act nobly.


In "The Iguana," Blixen touches on the nature of beauty—its true source. She suggests that essential beauty lies not only in the object itself, but is something drawn from the setting in which it is found. The skin of the iguana draws its beauty from life. The bracelet draws its beauty from the dark skin of the native girl. Other readings are possible, of course. This reflection might be her idealized racism talking, with the native object inextricably linked to the native girl and ruined by the European. In another view, this attitude simply reflects the painter's vision, the importance having the proper ground for an object. These multiple readings are possible because Blixen's method destroys binary terms like black and white and the accompanying judgments, bad and good, by offering tales that are more than ambiguous and have many meanings that are not necessarily complementary. In this latter sense, her work is postmodern before its time.

"The Elite of Bournemouth" stands out as a condemnation of the colonial attitude toward the native people. In the arrogance and callousness of the English doctor, Blixen highlights the common disregard among Europeans for the physical welfare of the Africans. Natives suffered a high mortality rate, in part because of the lack of medical care and in part because of their rejection of Western medical care. Blixen herself tried to remedy the problem by providing medical services to her squatters, but she mixes Western medicine with folk remedies.

In Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice, a young merchant in 16th-century Venice defaults on a large loan provided by Shylock, a Jewish moneylender. In "Farah and the Merchant of Venice," Blixen shifts perspective on the interpretation of the play. By describing how Farah sides with Shylock instead of the merchant, she calls into question what a European would take for granted—that Shylock is the villain. There are several such moments throughout Out of Africa in which Blixen presents the perspective of the colonized Africans. It is her way of mentally shaking the reader loose from familiar cultural understandings and opening up the mind to other possibilities. She is also demonstrating how the necessity for thinking on her feet, without guides for her tasks in Africa, has revealed new modes of thinking to her. In doing so, she suggests that all humans have potential for such fairness and novelty.

In "Of Pride," Blixen revisits a favorite theme—the nature of aristocracy and what it means to act nobly. She examines the core of the issue, seeing pride, or personal dignity, as the wellspring for noble behavior.

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