The Old Chief Mshlanga


This study guide will help you analyse the text “The Old Chief Mshlanga” by Doris Lessing. We will show you examples of elements in the text that will be relevant for your analysis. In these notes, we will focus on the summary, structure, characters, setting, narrator and point of view, language, theme and message. 

Presentation of the text

Title: “The Old Chief Mshlanga”
Author: Doris Lessing
Published in: African Stories (collection)
Date of Publication: 1964
Genre: Short Story

Doris Lessing (1919-2013) was a British author and Nobel Prize laureate (2007). She was born in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and lived there, as well as in London and South Africa. 

“The Old Chief Mshlanga” is a coming of age short story which follows an English girl living in Africa who changes her perspective on African natives as she grows up and meets a local chief.


Below, you can read an excerpt from our study guide: 


 The author of the short story resorts to extensive metaphorical language relating to the natural landscape. The “wind spoke a strange language” creates a personifying metaphor, as the wind is associated with a person and its sounds with a language. This serves to make the African landscape more vivid, suggesting its strangeness for the girl. You might also pay attention to other personifying metaphors like “the sad yellow light of sunset” or “a terror of isolation invaded me”.

The questions in the girl’s mind “were silenced by an even greater arrogance of manner” suggesting metaphorically that the girl preferred to act arrogantly rather than reflect on her attitude towards natives.  And the same questions “fermented slowly” in the girl’s mind, implying a slow-paced and natural process, such as when organic material is broken down.


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The Old Chief Mshlanga

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