Characterisation of Chief Mshlanga

Chief Mshlanga is an important character in the short story “The Old Chief Mshlanga” by Doris Lessing because he represents the element which triggers the changes in the protagonist (the girl). He is a flat character who is mostly presented from the perspective of the narrator.

Outer characterisation

His outer characterisation shows him to be old and always wearing his tribe leader clothes: “In front walked an old man, stooping his weight on to a stick, his hair grizzled white, a dark red blanket slung over his shoulders like a cloak.”; “…looking very old and bent now, walking stiffly under his regally- draped blanket, leaning on a big stick."

We also know that he has a son and that he used to be the leader of the whole area before the white men settling there, being “a famous man, known to all the explorers and prospectors”. Also, he speaks little English, mostly using translators.

Inner characterisation

The Chief’s inner characterisation is constructed through his actions and attitude, but presented from the narrator’s perspective. Initially, she finds the man too proud for a native “wearing dignity like an inherited garment”, but still respecting the custom of not looking white people in the eye: “…not looking at me (that would have been rude) but directing his eyes somewhere over my head at the tree.”

The man addresses the girl politely but without any trace of humility. As the girl grows curious about the man, she soon finds out from a book that the whole area used to be “Chief Mshlanga's country” and that the initial explorers had to ask for his permission to prospect the land.

Later on, as the girl continues to come across the chief and interact with him, the man still co...

The text shown above is just an extract. Only members can read the full content.

Get access to the full Study Guide.

As a member of, you get access to all of the content.

Sign up now

Already a member? Log in