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Literature Study GuidesOut Of AfricaPart 5 Chapter 1 Summary

Out of Africa | Study Guide

Isak Dinesen

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Out of Africa | Part 5, Chapter 1 : Farewell to the Farm (Hard Times) | Summary



Difficulties on the farm are beginning to mount up. The farm is positioned too high for growing coffee. The yield is often low, and there have been disastrous years of drought. Most recently, coffee prices have fallen dramatically while the bills are multiplying. The narrator's people back home, who own shares in the farm, want her to sell. Not one to give up, she devises several schemes for saving the farm, such as planting other crops. But she has no luck with her experiments and no money to cut down the coffee trees and start over with something more profitable.

Two years before the farm is lost, she returned from Europe to learn that only 40 tons of coffee had been harvested—half the yield of a good year. Faced with this disastrous news, she thought of Old Knudsen, who believed that pessimism is fatal. That same year the grasshoppers came, like a rushing cloud of black smoke stretched across the northern sky. When they landed, they looked like a thick layer of terra cotta–colored snow. They came in waves for two or three months. Sometimes they landed on the farm, eating everything they could; sometimes they only swept past, like a shrieking blizzard blocking out the sun.

Inevitably, the farm must be sold. Even so, the narrator cannot accept that she will leave Africa; she reflects that she was the last to grasp that she is actually going. This understanding throws all that she is losing in sharper focus and though forced to disengage from it all, she appreciates it more deeply.


In this chapter and throughout the final part, Blixen's writing style changes. It becomes more of a straight narrative rather than a collection of loosely woven anecdotes. The chronology of events is apparent as tragedy mounts upon tragedy. There is desolation in the tone: a sense of pending defeat. For a while, she hangs on with desperate optimism, recalling the lessons of Old Knudsen and the fatal nature of pessimism.

The structure of Out of Africa has been compared to a five-act tragedy. The first four acts depict the beauty and challenges of Africa, with no suggestion of despair or eventual defeat. The fifth act describes the tragic loss of all Blixen had dreamed of and worked for. Her descriptions of the farm swing in this part between visions of desolation and recalled idyll. Like her ill-fortune, the grasshoppers had come in wave after wave, destroying her paradise. Yet as she prepares to leave the farm, she experiences a shift in perspective that reveals the beauty of her lost paradise. She had never seen the country so lovely.

In this part, Blixen revisits the idea of the interdependence of the Europeans and Africans, as explored in Part 4, "Of the Two Races." She recognizes that her fate and that of the Kikuyu on her farm are intertwined. While this is their country and they know it better than she, they depend on her to decide their future. She, in turn, draws comfort from their constant presence as they wait for her guidance.

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