Study Guide

Out of Africa Change

By Isak Dinesen


The hills from the farm changed their character many times in the course of the day, and sometimes looked quite close, and at other times very far away. In the evening, when it was getting dark, it would first look, as you gazed at them, as if in the sky a thin silver line was drawn all along the silhouette of the dark mountain; then, as night fell, the four peaks seemed to be flattened and smoothened out, as if the mountain was stretching and spreading itself. (1.1.6)

Changes that are caused by humans are pretty much looked down upon by the Baroness and her pals. But natural changes, like the way that the mountains morph all day long, are, in Blixen's opinion, just another example of Africa's awesomeness.

The women made Farah's house home-like in the manner of a nomadic people, who may have to break their tents at any time, with many rugs and embroidered covers hung on the walls. (3.3.9)

The Somalis used to be nomadic, even though they now live in a permanent house on the farm. That old pattern of constant change is hard to shake, and the Baroness can see it in the way they live, which is always on the alert, ready for a quick change, even if it isn't coming.

Sometimes visitors from Europe drifted into the farm like wrecked timber into still waters, turned and rotated, till in the end they were washed out again, or dissolved and sank. (3.4.1)

The farm is a constant in the Baroness' life and that of her friends', and really not much changes on it as far as the day-to-day life. The only thing that does change is the people who come through, in this simile compared to a wrecked ship.

To the great wanderers amongst my friends, the farm owed its charm, I believe, to the fact that it was stationary and remained the same whenever they came to it. (3.6.4)

Earlier we saw how the only thing that changes on the farm is the people who pass through it; now we see the flipside of that statement. Change is good, but if you're a wanderer it can be really nice to have a home base that doesn't change, to give you a chance to catch your breath before you take off on more adventures.

Up till [Berkeley's] death the country had been the Happy Hunting Grounds, now it was slowly changing and turning into a business proposition. (3.7.32)

Berkeley Cole represents, for the Baroness, a sort of humanity in the colony. Even though he's a fancy-pants Englishman who is, let's face it, living off of the Africans, she has a really high opinion of him because he's a gallant guy. After he's gone all the classiness is stripped away and the money-grubbing is exposed for the nasty business it really is.

The man in the story was cruelly deceived, and had obstacles put in his way. He must have thought: "What ups and downs! What a run of bad luck!" He must have wondered what was the idea of all his trials, he could not know that it was a stork. (4.1.18)

The interactive kid's story of a poor guy who runs all over the place falling down and getting scared, just so the storyteller can draw a stork, is helpful for the narrator. She had to deal with lots of difficult changes in her life. When things are really looking bleak, she can imagine that it's all part of a plan to create a beautiful work of art.

At the same time coffee-prices fell: where we had got a hundred pounds a ton we now got sixty or seventy. Times grew hard on the farm. (5.1.3)

Change is pretty much always a negative thing in Out of Africa. The Baroness so wishes things would just stay the same and pretty and perfect, but that just isn't how life works. A dip in the economy means really rough changes for Baroness Blixen and all the people who live on the farm.

A few times, Denys and I spoke as if I was really going to leave the country. He himself looked upon Africa as his home, and he understood me very well and grieved with me then, even if he laughed at my distress at parting with my people. (5.4.2)

Hmm…someone seems to be a little bit delusional. In fact, it seems to be a mass delusion, because both the Baroness and Denys are ignoring the fact that she has sold her farm and has got to get the heck out of Dodge. They only speak a few times "as if" she were going to leave the country. That's exactly what she's going to do, showing how wishful their thinking is.

Other things were sold out of the house, packed and sent off, so that the house, in the course of these months, became das Ding an sich, noble like a skull, a cool and roomy place to dwell in, with an echo to it, and the grass of the lawn growing long up to the doorstep.

The house starts to change from an active and lively meeting place into a shell. Dinesen borrows a phrase from the philosopher Kant, das Ding an sich, meaning "the-thing-in-itself" to describe the house. Rather than being a particular house it is like an example of all houses. The changes have brought it from the realm of real life into the abstract.

There was one thing about these Ngomas of which I did not know—namely that they had been prohibited by the Government. (5.5.5)

The oldsters of the Kikuyu tribe want to throw an all-elderly dace party to wish the Baroness farewell. This is a really special thing, as the grannies and gramps don't get down much. The government's prohibition of the Ngoma is just another example of how the Kenya that the Baroness knew and loved has changed into an unrecognizable country.