HW Discussion (due July 5th)

What are your reactions to Doris Lessing’s “The Old Chief Mshlanga”? What was interesting and/or challenging about the way the story is told? Choose a passage and provide an analysis.

11 thoughts on “HW Discussion (due July 5th)

  1. Shahnewaz Khan

    Lessing’s “The Old Chief Mshlanga” narrates the story of an English girl. She grew up in Africa, and her early childhood memories of the English countryside conflicts with her views of the African setting. She acquires her parents’ biased, racist attitude toward natives from an early age, assuming that white people have the right to remain in that undisclosed region of Africa. She mocks black children and likes walking around her home with her gun and two dogs to scare black people away. The story exposes the devastating economic, legal, and social inequalities that European immigrants inflicted on native Africans in their homeland. It tells the story of how natives in South Africa were oppressed and prejudiced once white settlers arrived and imposed their authority over them.

    Slavery, oppression, and racial prejudice are highlighted as examples of Colonialism to uncover light on the true intentions of European settlers in Africa. To their white masters, black people are represented as nothing more than slaves. The narrator is a young girl who begins to realize the injustices of colonialism. She states, “The black people on the farm were as remote as the trees and the rocks. They were an amorphous black mass, mingling and thinning and massing like tadpoles, faceless, who existed merely to serve…” (The Old Chief Mshlanga 719). While colonizing Africa, the British saw the Africans as little more than objects. To put it another way, the black local farmers were like robots, they did exactly what they were instructed to do so. The British viewed the needs of the Africans as irrelevant, and that Africans are only there to serve the purpose that the British had set for them.

    The girl began to reconsider her actions and attitudes towards the native people. Despite this, she opted to disregard these troubling ideas, which “were silenced by an even greater arrogance of manner” (The Old Chief Mshlanga 719). Her parents encouraged her arrogant and superior attitude. Therefore, she couldn’t view the locals as equal of her. In fact, “It was even impossible to think of the black people who worked about the house as friends, for if she talked to one of them, her mother would come running anxiously: “Come away; you mustn’t talk to natives” (The Old Chief Mshlanga 719). Not only that, but she can’t help but notice that he’s speaking in his own language, which makes her wonder whether he’s suffering from the same shyness as she is as she required, “the right forms of courtesy for the occasion” (The Old Chief Mshlanga 725). In this instance, the white settlers use language to establish their dominance over the native people. As a result, locals are bound to learn English. The white settlers, on the other hand, know relatively few African words, indicating that they thought their language was superior to that of the Africans. However, the young girl expresses, “…it seemed to say to me: you walk here as a destroyer. I went slowly homewards, with an empty heart: I had learned that if one cannot call a country to heel like a dog, neither can one dismiss the past with a smile in an easy gush of feeling, saying: I could not help it, I am also a victim” (The Old Chief Mshlanga 725). She realizes that the prejudice was wrong, but it does not erase the fact that the past has had an impact.

    Lessing has expertly depicted themes of oppression, slavery, and prejudice to portray the struggle of native Africans after their colonization by white colonists, rather than merit. The young girl now believes that the indigenous people should be treated differently. Her meeting with Chief Mshlanga has changed her mind about the unequal treatment of the native Africans.

    My question for the class is: Why do you think Lessing uses so many metaphors and similes in a story that consists of both first and third person perspectives?

  2. Eathan Wysoki

    The story, ‘The Old Chief of Mshlanga’, takes place during the colonization of Africa.
    The story begins where the narrator is explaining how the whites treat the natives like animals. If the natives do not obey, they get chased by dogs forcing the natives to climb trees in order to escape death. Depending on the mood of the colonizers, the natives will either shoot them dead, or on a good day, the colonizers will just laugh at the humiliation of the native on top of the tree.

    However, one day the narrator experiences something unordinary. As she is strolling down a path she sees two natives walking in her way. She points the gun to force them out of her way. The natives don’t budge but instead they greet her. In a way here the tables turn as the Old Chief belittles the narrator. The reader notices this whenever the chief goes to shake the narrators hand. “The young man held his hand at knee level and smiled” (Lessing 720).

    This is the turning point of the narrators way of thinking. It was almost revolutionary for the narrator as she experienced a moment of realization. “But I thought: this is my heritage, too; I was bred here; it is my country as well as the black man’s country; and there is plenty of room for all of us, without elbowing each other off the pavements and roads” (Lessing 721).
    The girl changes her way of thinking about the natives and changes the way she interacts with them.

    How does the narrators thoughts and behavior reflect on the tone of the story?

  3. Midiam F Diaz (She/Her)

    I found Doris Lessing’s The Old Chief Mshlang narrated in the third person at the story’s beginning fascinating as she shifted from 3rd person to 1st person. She starts by describing the piece of land her father owned as a veteran from the British colony. As described in her biography “In 1925 the family moved to the British colony of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), where the colonial government was offering economic incentives to encourage the immigration of white settlers”. (Puchner 716). The opening of her narration in the third person starts as “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. (Lessing 718). As she describes the land, she also describes how the child who carried a gun and had two dogs were taught to use her dogs as an amusement to tease the natives by using the dogs to scare the natives up a tree when they would pass along the Kaffir. What started as amusement soon became questions later when the child was not able to make friends with the black people who worked in the house. As her mother would say “come away; you mustn’t talk to natives”. (Lessing 719). The child as she grew curious shifted to 1st person narrated when she noticed the natives weren’t as respectful to her as she expected.
    The narration begins to shift to first-person. She begins to understand further the history of that land when she is wandering through the path. she runs into the native men and is greeted by an old man who seemed to her as an equal “The old man spoke again, wearing dignity like an inherited garment, still standing ten paces off, flanked his entourage, not looking at me (that would have been rude) but directing his eyes somewhere over my head at the trees. (Lessing 720). It is at this very moment her perspective about the land they are on is very much the native’s land. When her mother finds out the cook is the chief son she gives no regard to the news and still treats him the same. She sets out to follow the man after he takes a day off and begins to feel a sense of fear when she realizes she walked about 10 miles out from her land. Lost she then realizes how beautiful and big the other side of the land is and she is just as equal she is to them as they are to her family. As she stated, “I went slowly homewards, with an empty heart: I had learned that if one cannot call a country to heel like a dog, neither can one dismiss the past with a smile in an easy gush of feeling, saying; I could not help it, I am also a victim.” (Lesser 725). She was part of the colonization and her father had been trying to capitalize on the land but became unsuccessful in doing so.

    Question: What happened with the goats? Can anyone explain what was going on between the father and the natives?

  4. Alice Suazo

    In this story where the audience has an anonymous narrator, there are many aspects of the impacts of colonialism being told. The only piece of evidence that there is about the narrator is that they are a white girl finding out about the treatment of white settlers towards native African people. One of the moments where the narrator highlights the differences between these two groups is when she states, “I was used to our farm, whose hundreds of acres of harsh eroded soil bore trees that had been cut for the mine furnaces and had grown thin and twisted,” (Lessing 722) In a sense, this brings to the audience the idea that even though these white settlers took over the land and resources from native African individuals, they did not take care of it in the absolute. In fact, they let it rot and flatten while only desiring to attain the almost symbolic value of owning land. In this way, the narrator is mentioning how well kept the scenery looks when under the people who know it the most, which is native African people; even if it’s a smaller area, it still retains its natural value.

    Furthermore, one of the more interesting things about the story telling within this text is the fact that there are no actual descriptions of the appearance of their characters. Though there’s a lack of explicit description, the author fathers comment on their stance and/or what energy they present to the world. Mshlanga is a character that physically lacks description, however, the author makes sure to portray the, as an individual with a strong, leader-suiting aura. Perhaps, this could be a way for the audience to perceive an emphasis between racial and ethnic backgrounds rather than the other aspects of the appearances of the characters.

    How would a more specific description of the characters’ appearances would have changed the way in which the story is received?

  5. Arpit Sharma (He/Him)

    I was struck by how Lessing tells the story in “The Old Chief Mshlanga.” As the story progresses, a young girl narrates the story, and it’s clear that she builds a lot of admiration for the old chief. However, there are also some challenging aspects to how the story is told. For example, the girl doesn’t seem to understand the concept of death and doesn’t grasp the gravity of the situation when the old chief dies. The growth of the girl’s mindset with the story is something I liked.

    A passage that struck me was “they were an amorphous black mass, mingling and thinning and massing tadpole” (Lessing 719). In this, the author uses animals to show how Africans are being viewed as useless and sub-human. The Africans are described as a mass of faceless tadpoles, just as animals can be manipulated and beaten.

    Overall, I thought “The Old Chief Mshlanga” was a fascinating story. I liked how it was narrated from the perspective of a young girl.

  6. Anthony Funes-Quick

    As I read Lessing’s “The Old Chief Mshlanga” I felt a sense of humble pride from the Old chief. Initially I was uncomfortable with the character of Nkosikaas, and how she interacted with native people of color. It appears Lessing illustrates effectively the conflict and curiosity between whites and people of color. I was surprised to uncover the nobility of the son and how he was being treated by the family.

    I found it interesting when the father of Nkosikaas said he doesn’t view their economic as rich. It was surprising to me because the demeanor of the entire family suggests otherwise. I also found the description of the setting to be interesting because I notice a lot of the text takes place outside. The way that the chief of Mshlanga was introduced confused me a bit. If the land is his how come he doesn’t revolt and reclaim what is rightfully his ?

    The passage that resonates with me the most is, “A Chief! I thought, understanding the pride, that made the old man stand before me like an equal — more than an equal, for he showed courtesy, and I showed none” (Lessing 720).

    This encounter between the two nobles was interesting because it was when the white girl started to view her environment differently. This dialogue appears to be a perfect illustration of how whites and blacks fit into society. Even after the family discovered the noble family they were still discriminated against them.

  7. Justin Cardeno

    Lessing’s “Old Chief Mslanga” describes the everyday oppression of black people in their native land at the hands of white settlers from the perspective of a child. While the child (narrator) initially treats her black subordinates poorly, as is expected from any white person, it seems more so taught and ingrained rather than out of pure malice; that these people are not to be treated as people but property. “It was even impossible to think of the black people who worked about the house as friends, for if she talked to one of them her mother would come running anxiously…” She grows to admire Chief Mshlanga, so much so that she visits his village, to the shock of all its inhabitants. While Mshlanga welcomes her, with shared admiration, they both, as well as all of the villagers, know that the notion of interracial friendship under the current system of oppression is a delusional pipe dream. It isn’t meant to be.

    Ultimately, after the native village is forcibly relocated, the narrator visits the empty land only to find an abundance of food. As the narrator previously stated, surely there were enough resources and lands to go around for all? The oppressor will never believe so.
    Question: How does the refusal to return the goats to the tribe represent the entire situation on a larger scale?

  8. Joanna Tobiasz

    It is an interesting perspective from the white girls eyes, not understanding what she is being introduced to. I’ve never read a story that has told the story from the opposing side of white settlers. As a child, she follows wherever her parents lead her and this is how she aligned her thought process before meeting Old Chief Mshlanga. I’d like to connect it to present day, as many kids are shouting racial slurs without understanding the history and what their words really mean. We see 10 year olds clearly stating their political preference when we as adults can identify that they are just reiterating what they are hearing at home.
    A particular passage that stood out to me was “But I thought: this is my heritage, too; I was bred here; it is my country as well as the black man’s country; and there is plenty of room for all of us, without elbowing each other of the pavements and roads” (721).
    This is the moment the girl realizes she doesn’t need to use her gun “for confidence” and she doesn’t want to set her dogs to chase natives. She’s developed a new respect that she is just now realizing after meeting Chief Mshlang. This makes me question how different society might have developed if children were allowed to do as they please without the control of their parents. For example: integrated schooling systems, common areas, etc. here, children will be able to develop their own opinions without the preconceived and judgmental pressures they receive from their parents.
    Question: Do you think children are at fault for following in their parents footsteps if they didn’t know any better?

  9. Mohammed Dadsi

    This story highlights the generational racism that has occurred in this world seemingly since the beginning of time. It shows that racism and prejudice is nothing but a horrible idea that has been passed on from generation to generation with no real structure. The girl in this story was initially racist and very rude towards the Africans in the story. She felt a sense of entitlement towards the land and pretty much regurgitated the attitude and racist ideologies that her parents have taught her. This is usually an idea that sticks with people their entire lives, because it is very hard to kick a habit, or in this case, an idea that you grew up being fed your entire childhood. However, in this story, we fortunately see something different. Once she meets the Old Chief Mshlanga, the girl eventually seems to have a complete 180° turn with her attitude. His sense of respect that he showed everyone and the way that he carried himself as a whole made the girl change for the better. She eventually stopped thinking of the natives in a prejudiced manner. She reconsidered the racist ideologies that have most likely been instilled in her since birth. The girl states “it is my country as well as the black man’s country; and there is plenty of room for all of us, without elbowing each other off the pavements and roads” (Lessing 721). Through this, we see the girl finally accepting that neither she, nor the other English people are entitled to the African land that they are on. This is a land meant to be shared by all, and so there is no need for unnecessary racism and prejudice towards people just because you look different than them. The lessons that this story teaches can very much be still needed in today’s world. Racism is everywhere. Prejudice is everywhere. These ideologies have been so prevalent in human history that certain people will truly live their entire lives believing that what they believe is right. It is refreshing to read a story of positive change and understanding for once.

    My question is: What was the author’s purpose of switching from a third-person perspective, using “she”, to a first-person perspective, using “I”, midway through the beginning of the story?

  10. Amir Mendoza

    The short story “The Old Chief Mshlanga” by Doris Lessing is about a young white girl named Nkosikaas who is living in Rhodesia, modern day Zimbabwe. At first Nkosikaas was brought up to believe that the natives are beneath her but her whole perspective is changed towards black people and Africa as a whole because of an encounter with the Old Chief Mshlanga.
    In the story, Nkosikaas decides to visit Old Chief Mshlanga’s kraal and she discovers what her family really does. She discovers that the land that she believed to be her father’s actually belongs to Old Chief Mshlanga. She discovers that the family’s cook is the son of Old Chief Mshlanga and that the cook is supposed to be the future leader of his people. Towards the end, Nkosikaas’ father forces Old Chief Mshlanga out of the land because Old Chief couldn’t compensate Nkosikaas’ father for the damage that was caused on the farm. Nkosikaas’ father moved the Old Chief and his people out to a Native Reserve that’s located 200 miles away.

  11. Jason Pastuizaca

    “The Old Chief Mshlanga” by Doris Lessing tells the story of an English girl. She is brought up in Africa, and in her early childhood, her memories of the English landscape overlap with her impressions of the African countryside. From a young age, she adopts her parents’ prejudiced, racist attitude regarding natives and assumes that white people are entitled to be in that unnamed part of Africa. She mocks black children and enjoys taking her gun and two dogs when she walks around her property to scare off black people. She finally started separating racism from her mind and realized she was in the wrong state of mind of being a racist and gave herself a chance to be a better person and opened up to them.

    Why the parents don’t stop the girl from following in their footsteps?

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