Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, and literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text's major themes.


God is a motif that appears frequently in Out of Africa. God primarily appears because he implicitly references the notion that Africa is a paradise-like landscape, which is one of Dinesen's primary themes. When the narrator flies in a plane, she compares looking down to looking with the eyes of God. When she realizes that her mule actually looks like a spoon, she notes that God, with his vantage point, certainly would notice this shape as well. When the narrator writes stories, she compares herself to God who was able to breathe life into Adam. The frequent references to God continue to highlight Dinesen's idea that Africa is a pastoral landscape that remains closer to the ideal as God actually intended.

Dying at Will

Isak Dinesen frequently references her belief that native humans and even native animals can choose to die if they want. This trend is seen among the Masai, who die within three months if put in prison, with the stubborn ox whose leg a lion ate off, and with Kitosch who willed himself to die. The narrator also hopes that the giraffes bound for Hamburg will die, so they shall not be trapped in a German menagerie.

Dinesen's belief that natives can will themselves to die relies upon her belief of their essential nobility, as well as their harmonious connection to their surroundings. The Masai, for example, die in prison because they cannot live without their glorious plains. In the same way, the stubborn ox resists having his spirit broken and prefers death. Dinesen believes that death is a more valid alternative to being oppressed. She sees the native ability to die as a way they can maintain their freedom, no matter how much Europeans want to control them.

Dinesen's praise of willful death is slightly romantic. One can also suggest that it fails to fairly value the importance of a native life. Nevertheless, the motif extends from Dinesen's idea that Africa is a pastoral landscape, where its animals and peoples live in harmony with their surroundings and therefore cannot be without them.


Dinesen frequently discusses storytelling, primarily with references to her favorite story 1,001 Nights or Arabian Nights, as it was recounted by Scheherazade. Dinesen describes that she likes to tell stories to keep her friends entertained. She shares stories with the Somali women. She recounts long oral tales to Denys Finch-Hatton, since he prefers hearing stories to reading them. Dinesen's continual references to her ideal of storytelling help to explain what she is trying to do in Out of Africa. Her ideal is perfectly shaped anecdotal stories that capture characters, colors, and textures and are meant to amuse. The motif of storytelling informs the author's intentions.