Study Guide

Out of Africa Literature and Writing

Literature and Writing

KAREN: But I've gone ahead of my story. He'd have hated that. Denys loved to hear a story told well.

Right from the beginning we see how important storytelling is to her. The film seems to take the opinion that Denys was the one responsible for convincing Karen to write, though it might be more accurate to say that it helped bind her to him more closely. Because love.

KAREN: Oh, yes. He has got lovely books. Does he lend them?

BERKELEY: We had a friend, Hopworth, he'd got a book from Denys and didn't return it. Denys was furious. I said to Denys, "You wouldn't lose a friend for the sake of a book." He said, "No," but he has, hasn't he?

This is an interesting quote considering how critical Denys is of Karen and her stuff later in the film. But books were pretty valuable back then, and collections were treasured. Berkeley clearly considered Denys' reverence for his books strange.

DENYS: Did you know that in all of literature, there's no poem celebrating the foot. There's lips, eyes, hands, face, hair, breasts, legs, arms, even the knees. But not one verse for the poor foot. Why do you think that is?

KAREN: Priorities, I suppose. Did you think you would make one?

DENYS: Problem is there's nothing to rhyme it with.


DENYS: It's not a noun.

KAREN: Doesn't matter. Along he came and he did put...upon my farm his clumsy foot.

This quote is basically an English grammar joke. Karen knew the rules of poetry. Denys knew the rules of prose. They're playing with each other. Kinda cute, isn't it?

KAREN: I like my things.

DENYS: When you travelled before in your mind, did you carry so much luggage?

KAREN: A mental traveler hasn't the need to eat or sleep...or entertain.

DENYS: You're right.

KAREN: Anyway, aren't you pleased that I brought my crystal and china?

DENYS: And your stories, yes.

Denys thinks it's a little ridiculous that Karen's brought all her fancy stuff with her. But it's clear that he appreciates her storytelling skills, so he couches his critique in a compliment. (We can only imagine how awesome it was to listen to this woman tell a story.)

KAREN: Did you save my life, Finch Hatton?

DENYS: No. The lioness did that. She walked away.

KAREN: So I'm not indebted, then?

DENYS: Ah, but I am. We pay our storytellers here.

KAREN: It's lovely. But my stories are free and your present's much too dear.

DENYS: Write them down sometime.

Denys' first present is the pen, and Karen's uncomfortable with it. He convinces her to accept the gift by encouraging her to write. That's not how it happened in real life, but it makes a nice way of showing how he influenced her.

DENYS: You do stir things up, Baroness. When they said they liked to read, how did they put that, exactly? Do they know they'd like Dickens?

KAREN: You don't think they should learn to read?

DENYS: I think you might have asked them.

KAREN: Did you ask to learn when you were a child? How can stories possibly harm them?

DENYS: They have their own stories. They're just not written down.

KAREN: And what stake to you have in keeping them ignorant?

DENYS: They're not ignorant. I just don't think they should be turned into little Englishmen. You do like to change things.

KAREN: For the better, I hope. I want my Kikuyu to learn to read.

Is Karen really disrespecting Kikuyu culture, trying to make the Kikuyu into Brit wannabes? Or is she just wanting to share her love of stories? She can't imagine a childhood where you're unable to read stories. Here's another culture clash—writing vs. oral traditions.

KAREN: You're skipping verses.

DENYS: I leave out the dull parts.

Denys is right. "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" has many dull parts if you don't have the Shmoop Learning Guide. Karen, the professional writer, doesn't want to skip anything.

BERKELEY: Be careful. When the old map makers got to the edge of the world, they used to write, "Beyond this place there be dragons."

KAREN: Is that where I am?

A map isn't technically literature, but it's often used to denote great peril in our society. Map makers' verbiage has crept into our every-day understanding of our world. It's also a great way to remind us that Karen is out of her element, and that she'd better keep an eye on any "dragons" that come close.

KAREN: I had been making up stories while he was away. In the evenings, he made himself comfortable, spreading cushions like a couch in front of the fire. And with me sitting cross-legged like Scheherazade herself, he would listen, clear eyed, to a long tale, from when it began until it ended.

The importance of storytelling in Karen's life cannot be overstated. She was captivating to others and considered a conversational seductress in a time when conversation was a valuable social commodity. The woman could talk. And build a sentence. And we're guess that everyone who invited her to their parties knew it.

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