Doris Lessing

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How does the narrator of The Old Chief Mshlanga describe white farms?

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Physically speaking, white farms are described by the narrator as consisting largely of unused land, dotted with sparse cultivated patches. The farm is described as a "gaunt and violent landscape," dotted with thorn trees, msasa trees, rocky outcrops, and row upon row of mealie (corn) stalks.

From a sociological perspective, the farm is described as an environment in which black people were present only to be servants to the white farmers and their families. Natives (black Africans) were seen as objects to ridicule at will. They were seen as frightening enough that, when the narrator was old enough, she carried a gun on her walks.

The book describes a scene typical of Southern Africa's history, in which a white person was not free to befriend a black person, and society was governed by a deep racial divide.

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The narrator of the story is a young white girl, growing up on a farm in what was then Rhodesia, but which is now Zimbabwe. She starts by describing her father's farm, which “like every white farm, was largely unused, broken only occasionally by small patches of cultivation.”

This description is incredibly important to the general theme of the story as it establishes the nature of land-ownership in Rhodesia at that time. Although the vast majority of Rhodesians were black, they were ruled, like black South Africans, by a white minority, who owned the country's wealth and all the best land. The narrator's description of the farm, with its lack of cultivation, indicates that land in this country is primarily a symbol of political power rather than a source of agricultural production. White farmers, like the narrator's father, occupy the land without really belonging to it. The lack of cultivation symbolizes the detached relationship to the soil that the white farmers have developed in a land which originally wasn't theirs.

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