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The Impact Of Allegorical Animals – Was Karen Blixen-Isak Dinesen A Racist?
Karen Blixen was born on 17 March 1885 as the second daughter of a wealthy and well-connected family in Denmark. This meant that from the very beginning of her life she belonged to high society, but not the highest part of it, namely one of the noble families from which their ancestors could be counted long ago. Her family tree can boast nobility on her father’s side, but not in the direct hereditary line, making her and her siblings Sirs and Ladies.
However, she was very attracted to the early lifestyle of the families of the great Danish and Swedish aristocratic houses. She was a snob, no one could deny that, but more for a certain nobility of character than for mere hereditary distinction. It was not enough to be born a nobleman to become one of the great characters she admired, some of whom were truly from the poorest of the poor or revolutionary like the heroes of the French Revolution.
Her mother’s family were well-to-do merchants. However, when her father committed suicide during her childhood (1895) and he raised her as well as her brothers and sisters, she felt exposed to the bourgeois and religious ideals he represented. She resented most of what they stood for – or rather, they resented the ideas she gave them: parochial, puritanical, pragmatic, unimaginative, idealistic, materialistic, and out of step with their own inner self. Instinct Her Instinct means something “connected by one’s soul to God or Destiny” and actually connecting to this Instinct requires a wild animal to attain its perfect form. Or as presented by the young man, Peter, who has the inheritance (that is, his God-given instinct) to become a sailor, but is urged to become something for which he has no inner drive (“Winter’s Tales” from “Peter and Rosa”):
“The other day I saw a fox,” he took up his theme after a long silence, “by a brook in a birch-wood. He looked at me, and wagged his tail a little. As I looked back, I reflected. As for him, that he excelled in being a fox, As God intended him to be. All he makes or thinks is just like a fox; there is nothing from his ear to his brush that God did not want. Stay there, and he will not interfere with God’s plan. If the fox were not like that, a beautiful And a perfect thing, then God would not be beautiful and perfect.”
In Karen Blixen’s writings the nobleman – or one at the other end of the social scale, the baseless and, in her view, completely free man – is treated as a wild, untamed and instinctive animal who lives by God’s law. Plan for him. E.g. Being compared to a wild animal is a true compliment to her. Pets, on the other hand, are the bourgeois equivalent of her mother’s family. If one is compared to these animals, one does not live by one’s innate instincts, or, to put it another way, the direct connection with God is broken or at least alienated: man does not live as he wants, but as he feels. E.g. Non-propensity of farm animals, suitable for getting social security.
Now what does all this have to do with racism, you ask? Well, in her beautiful book about her time in Kenya, “Out of Africa”, Karen Blixen compares everyone to animals, certainly not in a derogatory way, but marking them for their intrinsic qualities as she sees them. She was proud to be called a “lioness” as she spoke of the bravery and courage that was her role model. Her best friends, young aristocrats and great hunters from England and Scandinavia, naturally belonged to this group, and some were natives: both the devout and strict Muslim Somalis and the warlike Maasai whom she considered free in body and spirit because they had never been slaves compared to birds of prey. goes The Maasai are her greatest favorites because they simply cannot survive slavery (“Out of Africa”): “This extreme inability to survive under the yoke has placed the Maasai alone among all the native tribes among the immigrant elite. .”
The Kikuyus who have been enslaved, and who have reputedly hunted and sold each other, are compared to farm animals, but their relationship to each other is described more than anything else. One must admit that Somalis and Maasai are her favourites, yes, she also has human ideals with her, but she has a soft spot for the Kikuyus and does not insult them when she compares them to rats who are just another kind of free animal. . In their relationship with each other, she sees the Somali people as faithful sheepdogs who protect the precious sheep, the Kikuyu.
The use of animal categories to describe people goes back a long way. All over the world we meet gods as animals and animal gods, and this tradition of comparing humans to animals continues in fairy tales and legends but also in heraldry. Many Scandinavian noble families had animals on their coats of arms. Heraldic animals were accepted as valid names for family members in their address to one another so it was not unnatural for Karen Blixen to think along these lines with the natives of Kenya and with herself and her friends. First of all, talking about someone being “like a sheepdog”, protecting “sheep” and others being “birds of prey” was not an insult.
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