Doris Lessing Questions and Answers

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What the theme of the short story "The Old Chief Mshlanga," from the collection entitled This Was the Old Chief's Country: Collected African Stories Volume One?

The theme of the short story "The Old Chief Mshlanga" is how children learn about the differences between individuals and racial categories.

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In Doris Lessing’s short story "The Old Chief Mshlanga," a young white girl of English heritage learns about the difference between knowing people as individuals and generalizing about people within racial categories. Through her brief encounters with people of different races and heritages, she learns about the central role of race within colonial rule.

The protagonist 's family owns a farm in a unnamed British colony in southern Africa. Her upbringing and education are oriented toward English culture, literature, and natural history. The girl’s family has generally kept her separated from the black African people who live near their farm, some of whom work for the family. Not only does she have little opportunity to get to know any individuals, she can barely distinguish among them: “They were an amorphous black mass.” She is raised to take for granted the service of those who work in their home. With other white children, she is accustomed to laughing at, mocking, and tormenting...

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