Out of Africa

by: Isak Dinesen

Themes

Africa as a Pastoral Landscape

Isak Dinesen proposes that Africa is a pastoral landscape in which men exist in a truer form than they do in Europe. With modernization, industry, and cities, Africa exists as a land where everyone lives close to nature. Man's proximity and reliance on his surroundings place him in a position much as he was at the beginning of time. As a result Africans are able to remember truths that Europeans have since forgotten. Africa exists as a virtual paradise, much like the one where Adam and Eve once dwelt. Dinesen's philosophy emerges from the "pastoral school" consistent with many nineteenth century writers and painters, who believed that man exists in his most godlike form when he has a strong connection to nature.

Differences Between the Races

Dinesen believes that Africans and Europeans are fundamentally different. This difference emerges not because of biology, but because the European and African exist on different planes of history. Because of their different historical backgrounds, natives and Europeans possess fundamentally different characteristics. For example, the native mind functions in a different way than the European mind, because the European mind has lived through the Renaissance whereas the native mind has not. Dinesen does not say whether or not the European or native mind is preferable. Because of the essential difference between natives and Europeans though, Dinesen sees future trouble as they try to resolve their different relationships to modernity. Dinesen is not sure how the native Africans, who exist in a more pure human state, shall manage.

Aristocracy

The narrator believes that an essential aristocracy exists in certain person, which means that they possess an innate sense of dignity and knowledge of how to act nobly. Aristocrats are not only Europeans. Many native Africans that the narrator knows share distinguishing aristocratic qualities. Having an aristocratic air allows one to connect deeply with other human beings, regardless of their culture and race. In the case of Denys Finch-Hatton and Berkeley Cole, for example, their aristocratic nature makes it easy for them to work closely with native men on safari. The essential refined humanity of these various men make their specific race and culture insignificant because they can interact with a mutual code of respect.

Dinesen's code of aristocracy excludes the middle class, many of whom are European settlers who have come to Africa. When Dinesen observes less than honorable behavior by white settlers, these settlers almost always belong to the bourgeoisie. Between the natives and the European aristocrats exists an essential connection, but with the middle classes troubles begin to arise since the middle classes do not understand the code of aristocracy.