Structure

The structure of “The Old Chief Mshlanga” by Doris Lessing follows more or less a traditional plot line which includes an exposition presenting the setting and the characters, a rising action sprinkled with various tension points, a climax, a short falling action and a resolution.

The plot is built around the coming of age of the main character, which is triggered by her encounter with a native African who gradually makes the narrator aware of the racism, prejudice, and injustice the natives endure from white settlers like her and her family.

Title

The title of the short story suggests that the narrative might deal with issues related to African tribes because it names a chief with a native name, Mshlanga.

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Beginning

The story begins with a lengthy exposition rendered in the third-person in which the author introduces us to the setting—a farm in Africa—and to the protagonist, a white girl living there: “They were good, the years of ranging the bush over her father's farm which, like every white farm,...

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Middle

Most of the story develops around the way the girl gradually changes her racist perspective on the African natives due to her first and subsequent encounters with Chief Mshlanga:

It seemed it was only necessary to let free that respect I felt when I was talking with old Chief Mshlanga, to let both black and white people meet gently, with tolerance for each other's differences: it seemed quite easy.

A tension point is introduced during the rising action when the girl discovers that the family’s new cook is the chief’s son and she witnesses the way her mother becomes more aggressive with him after finding out his origin: “My mother became strict with him now she knew about his birth and prospects. Sometimes, when she lost her temper, she would say: 'You aren't the Chief yet, you know.'”

A lot of suspense and tension are introduced as the girl decides to find the chief’s village, mostly out of curiosity. On the road there, she experiences fear and loneliness, as she finds herself in a landscape she doesn’t know: “I was lost. Panic seized me. I found I was spinning round and round, staring anxiously at this tree and that, peering up at the sun which appeared to have moved into an eastern slant…”

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Ending

The falling action of the short story shows the consequences of the chief’s attitude as he and his tribe are forced to relocate to a government settlement and dispossessed of the land: “Some time later we heard that Chief Mshlanga and his people had been moved two hundred miles east, to a proper native reserve;...

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