Study Guide

Out of Africa Fate and Free Will

Fate and Free Will

Robert Burns nailed it: "The best laid schemes o' Mice an' Men gang aft agley." Philosophers and poets have always reminded us not to get any big ideas about being masters of our fate. Man plans, God laughs. Man proposes, God disposes. The folks who wrote this stuff knew that we all think we have more control over our lives than we really do.

Out of Africa is about Karen facing down against fate, a fate that seems to want to defeat her at every turn. Seriously, this woman goes through more in just a few years than most people have to face in a hundred. She plants coffee, but the terrain and weather make the crops fail. Her house burns down. Her lover dies. Yet she charges on, devoted to the Western, "civilized" notion that she has some control over her life and can hold off disaster. She learns, as the saying goes, that you can't direct the wind, but you can adjust your sails.

It does seem, as Farah tells her, that God's getting some good laughs out of this idea. It's a pretty epic showdown between Karen and fate, and while fate more or less wins this round, that doesn't mean she's not ready for another one once she finally gets back to Denmark. She fights back by writing, and this time she can be in control of her story. Maybe that's one of the appeals of storytelling vs. real life: you decide how things turn out.

Questions About Fate and Free Will

  1. At what specific points does fate seem to have it in to Karen? How does she respond in each circumstance?
  2. What did Karen fear her fate would be if she remained in Denmark?
  3. How does Denys choose to defy (or at least delay) his fate?
  4. How do the natives think about the concept of fate?

Chew on This

Karen never escapes her fate, no matter how hard she tries. We mean, it's fate.

Karen is able to shape her life in Africa once she acknowledges the limits of her choices.

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