Scene Analysis – Out of Africa

One of the initial excersises in my scene book is to take a memorable scene from a movie (or book, of course) and write about the below enumerated topics.  I had a hard time answering the prompts without slipping into literary analysis, but I think that’s OK. It may not be what the author meant, but I can see how doing this style of analysis might be really helpful in a re-write of my manuscript. I don’t think I could actually write creatively and keep these ideas in mind, but they may be good after-market questions to guide in scene clean-up later.

“Out of Africa” – Dennis’ Funeral

Action: Karen von Blixen and the rest of the town attend a funeral for Dennis, who has been killed in a plane crash.

Emotional Response: the townsfolk are all saddened by the loss of an established resident. However Dennis, although well liked, has always been distant and eccentric with unpopular ideas about the colonization of Africa. So their loss is somewhat superficial. Few had known Dennis well – his partner, who has already died, and Karen.

Karen suffers true loss, but in a detached way. She had recently ended her relationship with Dennis because his desire for freedom was too much in conflict with her need for ownership – a fundamental difference that underlays their whole relationship and their thematic representation of the African situation. So, Karen had effectively already lost Dennis – he planned to accompany her to the train station as she leaves Africa for good. Regardless of whether he lived or died, they would never have seen each other again.

In addition to ending her relationship with Dennis, she has lost her husband (a marriage of convenience, but Braun is the reason she comes to Africa in the first place and he has asked her for a divorce to he can remarry), her farm, and “her” tribesmen (the tribe that lived on her land will be re-located by the bank after they foreclose on the farm). She has also lost her mother’s investment, her home, and all her possessions (she has to sell her furniture and clothing to pay for the passage back to Denmark). Dennis’ death is a fitting end to her tragic season and she reacts with little emotion, deadened and numb from her accumulated suffering and loss. She says, “He was never ours. He was never mine”, which seems a summative phrase for the entire story – the more you claim ownership over something, the more devastating its inevitable loss.

In many stories this would be a characters excuse to wall themselves off emotionally. Here, though, as Karen holds the symbolic handful of dirt over the grave, her hand and resolution falter and she snatches the soil back. She clutches the handful of native soil near her heart(again reinforcing the symbolic union between Dennis and Africa). Then she silently turns from the crowd and, without further explanation or excuse, walks away. Her loss becomes a treasured object, compressed by the pressure of her grasp. You can imagine that she brings that clump of dirt with her back to Denmark, occasionally bringing it out of some keepsake box to caress in place of a lover. She never returns to Africa, instead returning to her mother’s home in Denmark where she becomes a well-known author.

This is also a fitting end for Dennis, whose dream of a free and wild Africa is disappearing as colonization rushes blindly forward. He would have liked his memorial, Karen comments – a patch of beautiful wilderness where a pair of lions rest together and a clot of hardened African soil, transported to a cold and foreign land by someone who had loved him enough to give him up.

What Did It Do For The Story:  This scene provides the emotional closure, both for the love affair and Karen’s dreams for her farm. Karen is able to say goodbye to both characters (Dennis and Africa) before leaving them forever. It also gives her the chance to verbalize the lesson that Dennis always wanted her to learn –that nothing ever really belonged to her except her own experiences.

Pulse:  During the whole movie, the narrator (Karen) has referred to this scene – “until Sarvo”. This scene pulls the movie towards it. The reader is kept wondering, then dreading, this end as it becomes increasingly inevitable. The scene itself in calm and restful; it is a release of the stress and expectation of the preceding heartache. Karen’s loss is very personal, but it is also universal. The reader can relate to the loss of Dennis and, in relating to the death in turn relates to her entire loss and the thematic loss of the country in its native state.

Dennis personifies Africa pre-colonization. He takes a huge theme and makes is small and personal, allowing the reader to absorb the thematic message while still connecting to the narrative. 

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Filed under Reflection, Scene, Writing Craft

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