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Out of Africa

Isak Dinesen

Book One, Kamante and Lulu: From "The Savage in the Immigrant's House" to "A Gazelle"

Book One, Kamante and Lulu: "The Ngong Farm" and "A Native Child"

Book Two, A Shooting Accident on the Farm: "The Shooting Accident" to "Riding in the Reserve"

Summary

The Savage in the Immigrant's House

One year, the heavy rains, which usually started in March and continued through June, do not come. Without the rain, the heat that has grown all spring felt overpowering. For years afterward, even in Europe, the narrator always felt grateful when it rained, because of her memory of the drought.

The natives take the drought stoically, even though it seriously affects their ability to grow crops and feed cattle. To keep herself entertained, the narrator takes to telling stories to her visitors. She also starts writing them down. Her typewriter fascinates the native boys, much as her German cuckoo clock does. Each day after she starts to type, a group of boys appears outside her window. Kamante eventually asks if she thinks that she can write a book. He points out that her pages are not a "book" because they are not bound like the ones in the library. The narrator explains that books are bound later in Europe and that she could write about anything, even him, and it could later be published. Several days later, the narrator feels amused to overhear Kamante giving a little lecture to the other boys about how books are written and published.

Kamante frequently references his new status as a Christian, which he feels make him more like the narrator. Some of the natives in the area, such as the Somalis, are Muslims, or followers of Mohammed, which the author calls Mohammedans. Muslims only eat meat from animals killed in a certain way, which always becomes an issue when Muslim servants are on safari. Eventually, a Muslim leader grants her servants dispensation from the eating rules while on safari.

Two things have changed about Kamante since his conversion to Christianity: his willingness to touch dead people and his lack of fear of snakes. Most Kikuyus would not do the former and greatly feared the latter. An old Danish man, Old Knudsen, comes to live on the farm at the end of his life. He is an old sea traveler who likes to tell stories about his many adventures. After dying of a heart attack on a path, Kamante helps the narrator carry him back to a cabin. Because of this incident, the narrator knows that Christianity truly has changed Kamante in some ways. Kamante also is the one in charge of caring for Lulu.

A Gazelle

Lulu is a young bushbuck antelope. The narrator feels she should adopt the deer one day after she sees that some native children have caught it. They name the antelope "Lulu," which is the Swahili word for a pearl.

Kamante initially feeds the antelope with a bottle full of milk, but eventually she is able to eat grain. Lulu is a graceful creature, who wanders everywhere in the house. Even the narrator's hounds are demure when Lulu appears, even though they frequently hunt deer. They understand the power of Lulu's position in the household. Lulu even sometimes pushes the dogs away from the milk bowl when she wants food herself, revealing that she is a true coquette.

One evening Lulu does not come home and no one can find her. After a week, the narrator sadly decides that Lulu is dead. Farah, her main servant, suddenly informs her that Lulu is not dead, but simply married. The next day Lulu eats some grain that Kamante puts out, while a male deer waits for her on the periphery of the landscape. Even with her mate, Lulu continues to visit and is relatively friendly. Eventually, Lulu has a small baby whom she also brings to the house. With her baby, Lulu shies from human contact and eventually the whole deer family returns to the wild and the narrator rarely sees them anymore. With Lulu's arrival, the narrator feels that the African landscape and her household have merged in a union. Lulu knew the secrets of the African landscape and brought them with her to the farm.

After the narrator leaves Africa, Kamante writes frequently to her, and even though he hires someone to write for him, the letters are not clear. Kamante usually explains that he is out of work and begs her to return to Africa.

Analysis

These two chapters complete the first section of Out of Africa. With them, Dinesen finishes sketching her farm, within a metaphor of it being a utopic, pastoral location. Her sections on Kamante and Lulu round out the previous discussion of the farm by discussing two of its major elements in detail: the native people and the wildlife around it.

Kamante and Lulu both serve as representations of their larger communities. By profiling them in detail, the idea that the farm exists in connection with its landscape becomes clear. Kamante indicates the relationship of the native community to the farm. They play an essential role both in the farm's culture as well as in making it run. In the same way, Lulu's domestication shows that the farm is connected with nature. The narrator herself proposes that Lulu came in from the forest to show that "we were on good terms with it" and that she made the house "one with the African landscape, so that nobody could tell where the one stopped and the other began." The unification of the animal realm and the native cultures within the house of a European immigrant presents a portrait of a farm in harmony with its landscape, thereby continuing Dinesen's metaphor of her farm being akin to a type of paradise.

Dinesen references her own attempt to act as a mythic storyteller in this section as well. The narrator's discussion with Kamante about the nature of writing testifies to Dinesen's own perspective on the matter. The narrator proposes that she could write about anything, including Kamante. Furthermore, she describes the plot of The Odyssey to Kamante and Kamante comes to compare himself with Odysseus. This comparison of Kamante to Odysseus is telling because The Odyssey is perhaps the most mythic of tales and the author wants to evoke a mythic context for her own narrative. The conversation between Kamante and the narrator directly recounts the narrator's own purposes and goals in telling her story, the story that shall turn into Out of Africa.

The narrator's desire to create a myth or story out of her own life explains her interest in the figure of Old Knudsen. Knudsen is an old Danish man who appears out of nowhere and asks to stay on the farm. He is only on the farm for six months before dying, yet the narrator discusses him here as well as in other sections of her book. Old Knudsen is Dinesen's ideal because he is a wandering storyteller who has successfully turned him life into a myth. He has no property or known family and defines himself only through the stories that he tells. Knudsen represents the true ideal of storytelling.

In her own life, Dinesen often noted her desire to simply tell stories. Her goal was to be like Scheherzade in Arabian Nights, a person who could recount beautiful tales and legends simply to entertain. The anecdotal structure of Out of Africa certainly reflects Dinesen's ideal of Arabian Nights. It also demonstrates Dinesen's desire to mythologize her own life, just as Old Knudsen has managed to do. In real life, Dinesen was Baroness Blixen, but here she has become "Isak Dinesen," storyteller extraordinaire. By telling tales about the world around her, Dinesen, like Knudsen, is trying to turn her life into a legend.

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