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Literature Study GuidesOut Of AfricaPart 4 Chapters 9 12 Summary

Out of Africa | Study Guide

Isak Dinesen

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Out of Africa | Part 4, Chapters 9–12 : From an Immigrant's Notebook | Summary



Chapter 9: The Oxen

On the farm, the oxen are given a rest every Sunday. In Africa, the oxen stoically serve as the muscle behind the advance of European civilization. Through the long, burning hours of the day, they plow the soil, make the roads, and cart heavy loads through the land. Their lives are not their own, but they heroically bear the hardships with dull patience.

Chapter 10: Of the Two Races

In the relationship between the sexes, males and females play equally important roles in each other's lives. However, most people do not recognize this truth, believing that one role outweighs the other in significance. The relationship between natives and whites in Africa is similar. While their roles intertwine and are of equal importance to one another, most on both sides reject this uncomfortable notion.

Chapter 11: A War-Time Safari

At the start of World War I, there is talk of confining white women in Africa in a concentration camp for their safety. Threatened by the idea, the narrator snatches the opportunity to lead a safari in service of the government. Despite hardships, rough roads, and lion attacks, it is an adventure to remember. Among the Africans with whom she travels are Farah and an old Somali cook named Ismail. To pass the time in camp, they tell her tales from their homeland, the Koran, and The Arabian Nights. In the stillness of the evening, she feels at one with the land and nature. After three months, she is ordered home, and while there have been other safaris, this one lives prominently in her memory.

Chapter 12: The Swahili Numeral System

When the narrator first comes to Africa, a young Swedish man teaches her to count in Swahili. However, the word for "nine" sounds like an impolite Swedish word. Blushing, he claims that the Swahili do not have a nine, though they have the lower and higher numbers. For some time, the narrator believes this and is intrigued by the "originality of mind" that could construct such a system.


Continuing with her anecdotal style, Blixen shares two sketches that are loosely related and link to larger issues: "The Oxen" and "Of the Two Races." A deeper reading of "The Oxen" suggests that Blixen also has in mind the African people and their plight under colonial rule. Like the oxen, they have been drafted into service or otherwise forced to work for Europeans. In earlier stories, Blixen has distinguished the Kikuyu as "a peaceful, patient people." Furthermore, she recognizes that her own life and freedom in Africa has come at the expense of these people. This story seems to reflect her empathy for the natives and gratitude for their service, even as she participates in the colonial enterprise.

In "The Two Races," Blixen views Europeans and Africans as equals in some ways. She argues that the two races depend on each other, playing complementary roles in each other's lives. Within the context of the time and place in which she lived, this is rare thinking, although if readers consider Blixen's father's cohabitation with native peoples in America and his political pamphlet demonizing America's government for murdering its indigenous people, one might say she had a model. To suggest equality and codependence among the races is a bold and rebellious move and one that suggests the very wide-ranging nature of her reading and her associations. In this and the previous anecdote, Blixen challenges the colonial notions of superiority. She highlights the deeply intimate relationships between master and slave, connected as closely as husband and wife. She speaks to her assumed European audience and advocates for Africans and their culture.

In "A War-Time Safari," Blixen returns to the idyll that is Africa, where she is free from the constraints of European society, free to embark on adventure in a place of awesome beauty. "The Swahili Numeral System" presents one of those shifts in perception that intrigue Blixen. Europeans take for granted that all numbering systems have a number nine. Though the notion that the Swahili have no nine turns out to be untrue, she delights in the idea of a desperate imagination willfully breaking the rules. The anecdote also presents a contrast between the prudish nature of the Swede, who cannot say certain words to a woman, against the naked openness of the natives.

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