Themes

The main themes in the short story “The Old Chief Mshlanga” by Doris Lessing are racial prejudice and injustice. These themes are enhanced through the motif of coming of age, as the narrator is a young girl who begins to realise the injustices of colonialism.

Table of contents

Racial prejudice

The theme of racial prejudice is explored in the short story in the context of colonial Africa and through the characters of the white people (children, parents, policemen) and the protagonist.

As a child, the narrator was raised by her parents to consider herself superior to the native population and to avoid being friendly with them. This, together with other children’s attitude (which was probably transferred from their parents), have led the girl to mistreat, mock and even torment both black adults and children, using her dogs to scare them up a tree or throwing sticks and stones at black children without any feeling of guilt.

Although it crossed the girl’s mind that her atti...

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