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Out of Africa | Study Guide

Isak Dinesen

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Out of Africa | Quotes


I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong Hills.

Narrator, Part 1, Chapter 1

This statement opens the story of Baroness Karen Blixen's life in Africa. In its simplicity, she reveals a great deal about herself and the story she will tell. She says I had a farm—not we, though she initially owned the farm as a married woman. Use of the past tense—had—signals that the farm is no longer hers. Its location is given as Africa, not British East Africa—indicating that Blixen made no such distinctions. She goes on to position the farm at the foot of the Ngong Hills rather than near the town of Nairobi or in the British protectorate of Kenya. In her view, the farm—the land—belongs to Africa, not to the immigrants who took it. The statement taken as a whole is laced with nostalgia. The narrator is looking back at something memorable that was lost.


Up in this air you breathed easily, drawing in a vital assurance and lightness of heart. In the highlands you woke up in the morning and thought: Here I am, where I ought to be.

Narrator, Part 1, Chapter 1

Karen Blixen hopes to live and die in Africa. It is more a home to her than her native Denmark. Africa fulfills her romantic expectations of a primitive place where humans and nature live on close and comfortable terms. In this paradise found, she has freedom to live authentically, symbolized by the ability to breathe easily, without strain.


I was young, and by instinct of self-preservation, I had to collect my energy on something, if I were not to be whirled away with the dust on the farm-roads, or the smoke on the plain. I began in the evenings to write stories, fairy-tales and romances, that would take my mind a long way off, to other countries and times.

Narrator, Part 1, Chapter 3

One year, there is a devastating drought. Day after day, everyone on the farm waits in vain for the rain, while crops wither and farm work slows to a standstill. The Kikuyu are accepting and passive in response. Blixen, however, must find some distraction to pass the time and use up her natural energy. Some stories written at this time will be published later in her first book, Seven Gothic Tales.


It is when one begins to lose the consciousness of freedom, and when the idea of necessity enters the world at all, when there is any hurry or strain anywhere, a letter to be written or a train to catch, when you have got to work, to make the horses of the dream gallop, or to make the rifles go off, that the dream is declining, and turning into the nightmare, which belongs to the poorest and most vulgar class of dreams.

Narrator, Part 2, Chapter 1

This statement foreshadows the accidental shooting on the farm. Blixen equates dreams with unlimited freedom—spaces in which anything can happen. As long as the dreamer feels free within the dream, it is a gift. When a dream takes a dark turn and the dreamer's freedom is threatened, there is danger that both will drop into nightmare. As the shooting and its aftermath unfold, the tranquility of the farm—Blixen's dream—is threatened. If she does not take action, the dream may spiral into nightmare. The statement foreshadows the larger arc of events—the many intrusions of necessity—that end with her loss of the farm.


The Cicada sing an endless song in the long grass, smells run along the earth and falling stars run over the sky, like tears over a cheek. You are the privileged person to whom everything is taken. The Kings of Tarshish shall bring gifts.

Narrator, Part 2, Chapter 1

Blixen equates the African night with a waking dream. Surrounded by the night's infinite space and freedom, she feels in touch with essential, untamed Africa. Within such a landscape, she can live freely and authentically. The sounds, smells, and sights of Africa are gifts, and she feels like King Solomon of the Bible accepting treasures from the Kings of Tarshish. This beautiful image of night precedes the shooting on the farm, when a single gunshot shatters the nighttime peace.


I turned to the animal world from the world of men; my heart was heavy with the tragedy of the night.

Narrator, Part 2, Chapter 2

On the morning following the shooting, Blixen rides out alone to the Masai Reserve, where there is no human habitation except in the scattered villages. Before her lay a hundred miles of grass and undulating land. She turns to nature for solace and strength, knowing that soon she will be asked to oversee the legal proceedings related to the event. In the untamed wilderness of the reserve, she looks for unity with nature that will lift the heaviness from her heart.


A visitor is a friend, he brings news, good or bad, which is bread to the hungry minds in lonely places. A real friend who comes to the house is a heavenly messenger, who brings the panis angelorum.

Narrator, Part 3, Chapter 1

Panis angelorum means "bread of angels." It refers to the manna which was given to the Israelites by God during their journey through the desert. This statement introduces the visitors to the farm, the focus of Part 3, comparing them to the vital bread that kept the Israelites alive. Life on the farm is often lonely for Blixen, with no friend to talk to in the stillness of the evening. She says that, at these times, "when the minutes dripped from the clock, life seemed to be dripping out of you with them." So the companionship and conversation brought by a visitor is like bread to a starving person.


The yeast was out of the bread of the land. A presence of gracefulness, gaiety and freedom, an electric power-factor was out. A cat had got up and left the room.

Narrator, Part 3, Chapter 7

This is a tribute to Blixen's close friend, Berkeley Cole. He is a true aristocrat, noble in his dealings with people, well-liked by the Europeans of the colony, and trusted by the Africans. He enjoys life to the fullest, has the dashing manner of a French cavalier, and has the instincts for comfort of a refined cat. When he dies of heart failure, Blixen and other members of the colony feel the loss deeply, as if his death marks the end of a bright era.


Every time that I have gone up in an airplane and looking down have realized that I was free of the ground, I have had the consciousness of a great new discovery. 'I see:' I have thought, 'This was the idea. And now I understand everything.'

Narrator, Part 3, Chapter 8

One of the great joys that Blixen discovers is flying with Finch-Hatton. Seeing Africa from the air opens up a whole new world for her. It provides one of those shifts in perspective that she finds delightful, but on a much grander scale. Not only is she experiencing a kind of three-dimensional freedom, but she is seeing the world as God had intended—without divisions; a unified whole.


Love the pride of the conquered nations, and leave them to honor their father and their mother.

Narrator, Part 4, Chapter 8

Blixen believes that a civilized being is conscious of his destiny and finds happiness in fulfilling it, as God intends. Pride is self-assurance and faith in that plan. A civilized being also honors the pride in others, whether human or animal. He does not try to crush it. In her statement, Blixen pleads with her assumed European readers, prodding them to be civilized toward the people of Africa and other conquered nations.


It seems to you, as you read the case through, a strange, a humiliating fact that the Europeans should not, in Africa, have power to throw the African out of existence.

Narrator, Part 4, Chapter 17

Here again, Blixen is addressing her readers and assuming that they are Europeans who favor the colonial order and look down on Africans. The case she refers to is the beating death of an African boy, Kitosch, by a British settler. The legal inquiry that follows results in a light sentence for the settler. Blixen's outrage is subtly expressed in her candid account of the trial. However, she intends to disturb her readers with this blunt condemnation of unjust colonial practices.


Between the river in the mellow English landscape and the African mountain ridge, ran the path of this life. ... The bowstring was released on the bridge at Eton, the arrow described its orbit, and hit the obelisk in the Ngong Hills.

Narrator, Part 5, Chapter 3

Blixen pays homage to her friend and lover, Denys Finch-Hatton, who has died in a plane crash. The "bridge at Eton" refers to a small stone bridge built by Denys's schoolmates across a stream at Eton, in Britain, as a tribute to him. The inscription on the bridge reads, "Famous in these fields and by his many friends much beloved." From his schooldays in Eton, the course of Denys's life brought him to far-off Africa, where it ended, and his grave there is marked by an obelisk erected by his brother.


The outline of the mountain was slowly smoothed and leveled out by the hand of distance.

Narrator, Part 5, Chapter 5

This statement closes the story of Karen Blixen's life in Africa. It describes her last view of the Ngong Hills as she stands outside the train that will take her away. The place that was home for seventeen years—so sharply defined and richly detailed in her writing—is fading from sight. Like a vivid dream that grows faint upon awakening, Africa and her life there are becoming less real, a soft, indistinct vision. Only by writing down her memories will she recapture, conquer, and pin down the dream, to make it immortal.

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