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.


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. However, the chief is not the protagonist of the story, but functions as the character who delivers the wake-up-call to the protagonist, a white girl growing up in Africa. The chief represents local, native traditions and hierarchies which have been disrupted by white settlers who took over the natives’ lands.

Through meeting the title character, the girl realises and accepts that the natives are victims of colonialism and that the whites are guilty of taking over their country and their lands.


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, was largely unused, broken only occasionally by small patches of cultivation.”

The exposition is very detailed, presenting the girl’s life while growing up to be a teenager, paying particular attention to the way she relates to the setting and the native peop...

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