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.

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.

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Injustice

The theme of injustice is closely connected with that of racial prejudice because it is the racial bias which leads to unjust, discriminatory practices against the natives. While the first white explorers in the area requested the permission of the local chieftain to prospect the lands, the country soon became a colony in which mutual respect and equal rights were not even considered.

This is why what was once Chief Mshlanga’s country has...

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