Doris Lessing Questions and Answers

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In "The Old Chief Mshlanga," how is Doris Lessing celebrating her cultural heritage?

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It is not really accurate to say that Lessing is celebrating her own cultural heritage in this story. Lessing was a white British woman born to white British parents, and the cultural heritage celebrated in this story is certainly not that of the white protagonist, who comes to learn that the racist attitudes of her parents are unfair and reprehensible. However, we can certainly say that Lessing is drawing upon her own experiences of having been raised in Africa. Through the eyes of her white protagonist, Lessing criticizes the point of view which leads to cultural oppression, while signposting the true value of the African culture which the white colonizers dismissed.

Elements of Lessing's own culture, such as the snatch of Tennyson's "The Lady of Shalott" the protagonist sings, are set against the backdrop of "the warm soil of Africa," which the white child "might be supposed to accept . . . as her own." But Lessing's narrative is highly critical of this cultural appropriation: because...

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