Out of Africa
Analysis of Major Characters
The narrator (Karen Blixen, Baroness Blixen)
The narrator of the novel is a European female, whose identity as Baroness Karen Blixen is only given through subtle hints. For most of the story, the narrator seeks to be a pure storyteller. She pays careful attention to the world around her. Landscapes are painted with representative colors, textures, and details. Characters similarly are depicted with attention to their notable qualities and amusing quirks. The narrator often tells her stories with little attention to herself. She acts like an anthropologist recording the landscape around her purely for the purpose of presentation.
Yet, the narrator herself does have a personality and she does frequently flavor her representations with many of her own ideas and even prejudices. Furthermore, the narrator frequently uses her stories as launching points for her own philosophical perspectives on certain larger ideas. One of her primary ideas is that certain people, whether European or natives, possess an innate aristocratic sensibility. These aristocrats, such as herself, the Masai, and Denys Finch- Hatton, are able to connect to one another in the spirit of humanity, regardless of their cultural differences. The narrator's tendency to philosophize demonstrates that she is a thoughtful and intelligent woman who longs to make sense of the world. Her particular theory about aristocracy also alludes to another one of her character flaws: her occasional snobbery or elitism. Although the narrator holds relatively progressive ideas on native-European relations for her time, she still comes across as occasionally arrogant.
The narrator also appears to be a woman who is interested in life and living. During the first World War, she leads a train of wagons across dangerous terrain, while most white women were hiding in their houses. The narrator's relative fearlessness shows her to be a creature who thrives on activity and adventuring. The narrator is skilled at shooting and likes to go hunting. She longs to make herself into a mythic hero, like the old Danish sea horse, Old Knudsen. She also longs to be able to tell a beautiful story.
There is one more side to the narrator that primarily comes out in the book's final section. This side is sad, melancholic, and often full of despair. Dinesen carefully tries to maintain a light comic tone in the earlier sections, but her sadness at Denys Finch-Hatton's death and at her departure from Africa is obvious. All in all, the narrator appears to be a person striving to life a good life and treat other people with respect. For this reason, she earns our sympathy, even though she may occasionally voice snobbery or ideas that people may now find to not be culturally sensitive. She is an adventurer on the difficult road of life, and it has not always been easy for her.
Farah is the most important native servant. He is the narrator's closest confidant. He knows as much about the farm as the narrator and is in charge of all of its affairs. Farah is probably the narrator's best friend in Africa, even though she and he belong to different classes and he is her servant. The narrator has no companion who interacts with her as frequently as Farah and she has no one whom she trusts so completely. In a social order that looked down on relationships between native men and white women, Farah's closeness to the narrator, although completely non romantic, was unusual. Farah is a noble figure with virtuous values, even though he is a native. Farah's Somali background makes him a Muslim. Generally speaking, he is an upright, honorable figure who is highly capable and civilized. He particularly is interested in law and business. Farah's devotion to his Muslim religion makes him one of the most upright and noble native figures. He closely maintains his dietary practices and prays during the day. He takes good care of his women, while also shielding them carefully from excessive exposure in society. Farah fits into the narrator's ideal of an aristocratically minded native. In fact, he shares some of her slightly arrogant perspectives because he, like she, looks down on many of the people around him. Farah thinks that the Kikuyu are lazy, for example, because they lack his rigor and discipline. Still while Farah voice occasionally elitist ideas, one still tends to like him. He is a man who can be fully trusted and one who takes good care of his mistress. He sensitively cloaks unhappy news from her. In her final African hours, he wears his grandest clothes as befits a difficult occasion. He is a kind, noble, and diligent figure who earns our respect simply by being a disciplined person.
Kamante is the primary comic figure in Out of Africa. When he is first introduced, he is a young sickly boy who arrives daily for medical treatment at the narrator's hands. As a child, Kamante sits stoically and never makes a sound. It is not until he returns from the hospital that he shows himself to have comic intentions. When the narrator first sees him again, Kamante has wrapped bandages around his legs, even though they are completely healed. The narrator concludes that natives have a flair for dramatic effect. Another dramatic technique he occasionally uses is his ability to shed tears at will. For a long time, the narrator actually feels sympathy for him, before she realizes that his tears are just another one of his comic, yet dramatic effects.
Kamante also appears a comic figure because the narrator takes pains to recount some of his funnier misunderstandings for comedic effect. For example, she finds it humorous that Kamante now feels so proud of being a Christian, but the sole change it has truly affected is his lack of fear of snakes and dead people. Kamante frequently brags to other Kikuyu boys that he can step on snakes and kill them, although he refuses to believe that dinner courses should be served in a certain order. Kamante also has a tendency to remember his dishes by events that happened on the day that he learned the recipe, which adds to the humor of his behavior. Kamante overall is a kind, friendly character, but one who differs from the severity expressed by other native man, such as Farah and Kinanjui.
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