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Out of Africa | Study Guide

Isak Dinesen

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Course Hero. "Out of Africa Study Guide." Course Hero. 23 Sep. 2016. Web. 9 June 2023. <>.

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Course Hero. "Out of Africa Study Guide." September 23, 2016. Accessed June 9, 2023.


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Out of Africa | Summary

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Out of Africa is a memoir based on a series of episodes in the narrator's life in Africa from 1914 to 1931 and written six years later. The narrator is a Danish woman, curiously anonymous, until well into the account when she reveals her signature: "Baroness Blixen." The Baroness owns and manages 6,000 acres at the foot of the Ngong Hills in Nairobi, Kenya. Six hundred acres are dedicated to growing coffee. The balance, a wilderness of field and forest, is left to the use of natives who work on the farm. Located 6,000 feet above sea level, the farm is a bit too high for growing coffee.

The natives on the farm—mostly Kikuyu—live on a parcel of about a thousand acres. For use of the land, they work a certain number of days a year and, in this role, are called "squatters." The narrator takes a deep interest in their welfare, providing basic medical care, setting up an evening school, and helping to settle disputes.

To the south, bordering the farm, the Masai live in a vast Game Reserve of grassland and thorn trees. Twelve miles from the farm is the growing town of Nairobi, the center of British colonial government. On the outskirts of town, diverse groups live in settlements: Somalis, Swahilis, and Indian merchants.

Dinesen builds her memories of life in Africa in a vivid series of events, character sketches, and anecdotes. The language and sequence of the text operate as though recounting the episodes of a dream. Little is presented in chronological order.

Part 1 establishes the African setting and proceeds to fill in the scene. The unidentified narrator introduces a young Kikuyu named Kamante, whom she meets while out riding. He is terribly sick, with running sores all over his legs. Unable to help him, she takes him to the nearby hospital run by Scotch Protestants. When his cure is complete, he converts to Christianity and joins the narrator's household, becoming her valued assistant and an expert cook. Kamante also becomes her friend.

A second visitor comes out of the woods into the narrator's life: Lulu, a young female antelope. For a time the animal, almost a magical token of friendship from Africa, lives in the house, her presence blurring boundaries between the wild and the civilized worlds. In time, Lulu matures and returns to the forest. The stories of Kamante and Lulu intimately connect the narrator with the life of Africa. Thus, the narrator discovers a pastoral and deeply affective beauty far from her origins.

In Part 2, detailed accounts of the culture, religion, and points of view of the native people combine to create Dinesen's compellingly distinct vision of Africa. Separate chapters record a progression of events in the aftermath of an accidental shooting on the farm, which leaves one Kikuyu child dead and another severely wounded. The shooter is the son of a wealthy Kikuyu squatter. According to tribal law, the elders must determine what the boy's father will pay the victims' families for their losses. As owner of the farm, the narrator must oversee the heated debates, while setting aside her European views on crime and punishment. Sensing that tensions are building out of control, the Baroness enlists the counsel of Kinanjui, a respected Kikuyu chief and friend, and matters are brought to a satisfactory close.

In Part 3, Baroness Blixen portrays the diverse people who enrich her life. Her farm is the meeting ground for an array of interesting visitors, including European settlers, game hunters and explorers, natives who gather for large ritual dances called Ngomas, a Muslim High Priest, a vagabond actor, and an old Dane. Among her closest friends and most frequent visitors are Berkeley Cole and Denys Finch-Hatton. Cole has his own farm and enjoys keeping the narrator's home well-stocked with European luxury: quality wine, imported food, and gramophone records. The stubbornly independent Finch-Hatton has property, but no home in Africa, and he stays at the narrator's farm when not on safari. The farm comes alive when he is there, and he and the narrator often hunt together. In the evenings, like Scheherazade (in One Thousand and One Nights, the maiden who tells stories in order to save her life), the Baroness invents tales to detain Finch-Hatton, whom readers may assume is her lover.

Part 4 is a collection of anecdotes and episodes of varying length, which continue to distinguish this portrayal of Africa and its people. Episodes include incidents from World War I, stories revealing distinct African and European perspectives on society, reflections on animals in the wild and in captivity, and meditations on the land. This section ends on a note of sadness that foreshadows Part 5. Here, chapter by chapter, the narrator's life in Africa is destroyed. The farm fails, Chief Kinanjui dies, Finch-Hatton dies in a plane crash, and the narrator must say good-bye to her friends and to Africa forever.

Out of Africa Plot Diagram

ClimaxFalling ActionRising ActionIntroductionResolution2134675


1 The narrator introduces memories of farm life in Africa.

Rising Action

2 She tells stories of cherished people and events.

3 A tragic shooting shatters the tranquility of the farm.

4 The farm is plagued by drought and falling coffee prices.


5 Bankruptcy forces the narrator to sell her farm.

Falling Action

6 Her lover, Denys Finch-Hatton, dies in a plane crash.


7 The narrator leaves Africa forever and returns to Denmark.

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