Study Guide

Out of Africa Memory and the Past

By Isak Dinesen

Memory and the Past

In Out of Africa, memory is the boss. The book is a memoir, which ought to be our first clue that memory is important, and almost the entire book gives you the feeling you are accessing a lost past that can never be retrieved.

Isak Dinesen remembers a Kenya that was changing rapidly and that will never be just as it was when she lived there. The past is separated from her not only by time, but by space, too, because she's back in Europe remembering Africa. She connects Africa with the past and Europe with the present and future. Before you get our your hankies and start feeling sorry for Dinesen, recall that she's remembering a Colonial past, which is gross. Check out the Theme of "Race" for more on that nasty can of Colonial worms.

Questions About Memory and the Past

  1. Who do you think that Dinesen's ideal reader is for Out of Africa? Was she writing to Europeans, Africans, Europeans who had never set foot in Africa, or Europeans who lived in Africa? Why is it important for her to communicate her memories to this reader?
  2. What does the act of writing mean to the Baroness and other characters in Out of Africa, and how does it relate to the idea of the past?
  3. How much time has passed from the events in the memoir and its writing? How do you know? Look for clues in the book itself.
  4. What particular spaces in Out of Africa have special significance and connection with memory and the past?

Chew on This

In Out of Africa, the African characters are linked to the past, while the Europeans are associated with the future.

Out of Africa suggests that personal memory and political memory are inextricable.