Responding to violent or oppressive historical conditions

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Given the history of oppression, particularly the apartheid system in South Africa, the impact of Western imperialism on African heritage cannot be erased. In her book, 'the old chief Mshlanga,' Doris Lessing attempts to depict harsh conditions against this backdrop. Julio, on the other hand, provides objective realism in the 'home taken over.' Julio Cortazar left the story open-ended when writing it. The essential questions, based on the characters' dreams, become: Is it their dreams, oppression, obsession, or fears? Cortazar awakens in a dream in which he is at a large home. However, he is evicted through push by some forces which take him from one room to another till he is out. This paper seeks to unravel the responses to violent and oppressive historical conditions with Doris Lessing and Julio Cortazar’s short stories forming its springboard.

The Old Chief Mshlanga

On the one hand, Doris Lessing in her short story, ‘The Old Chief Mshlanga’ reveals the legacy of western colonialism in the African history. To push forward the historical oppression condition, she relies on the South African regime of apartheid. Her themes address real issues in real situations, however, in an oppressive environment.

Racial Prejudice and Injustice

Doris presents racial prejudice through the attitude of the narrator, white, who uses her dog to scare the natives, blacks. Through the transition of the reaction from her parents, she feels superior and mocks, mistreats, and torments both black children and adults. She throws stones and sticks at them. Besides, the superiority complex with which the parents teach their kids is brought out when the narrator is restricted from befriending the black natives. On injustice, Doris expresses this through a complete disregard of equal rights, mutual respects, and even promotion of discriminatory practices against the blacks. Also, there is preferential treatment between the blacks and the whites; this shows an act of injustice.

Feminism and Colonialism

Furthermore, Lessing deals with feminism and colonialism in a bid to address the evils of apartheid. She masterly influenced readers by forms as well as by choice of words for her protagonists, she asserts ‘‘the novelist talks as an individual to individuals, in a small personal voice’’ (Lessing, p 4-5). She gives the nature of reality, being an anti-apartheid crusader; she exposes the dark side of the regimes. In a bid to capture the predicaments that befall the natives, and their suppression by the Europeans, she presents the old chief Mshlanga, how an explorer requested for a chieftain and later owns invited the colonialist who drove the natives out of their land.

The House Taken Over

On the other hand, Julio embraces narration in ‘The House Taken Over’. The protagonist narrates his story with his sister Irene in their house. He lays bare how unfruitful their past relationships could not lead to marriage. “He ended up thinking, at times that the house was what had kept us from marrying.” Nevertheless, sooner than later, some forces invade their house “which makes the characters huddle to the part of the house they usually frequent.” In a way, Julio attempts to manifest oppression. Cognizance should be drawn to the simple fact that the narrator and his sister, Irene are forced to huddle in a part of the house despite it belonging to them. The narrator eludes, “he got stranded on one side of the house with his French collection of literature and ordered a stamp. On the other hand, Irene makes up new patterns for her knitting.”

The Forces Within

Furthermore, Cortazar reveals how the forces soon discomfort the characters; interestingly, the forces came from within. The intensity of the effect was higher while dreaming such that even the narrator becomes nervous. He asserts, “Whenever Irene talked in her sleep, I woke immediately and stayed awake. I could never get used to this voice from a statue or parrot that came out of the dream, not from the throat.”

Past Haunting

A more in-depth look into Julio’s narration reveals that an oppressive past is haunting the characters. This happens to the extent that they lack peace of mind; their dreams are full of nightmares. Besides, the anguish and agony they undergo are propagated by the forces which intersect into their thoughts.

Fast forward, they get overpowered, the forces appropriate the whole house, and finally, they are driven out. The narrator states that “their collective past lives encapsulated within the house, their belongings, furniture, and ornaments come to represent the lives of their ancestors.” A past historical oppression, if not then what is? Could their past life just surround them? Julio, therefore, reveals a dark past that is haunting the protagonists and that is why they are full of scary dreams.


In conclusion, then, the juxtaposition of Doris Lessing’s work and that of Julio reveal the oppression that man is franked with. Doris was genuinely interested in the modernization of the world and the fate of man. Both writers’ literature serves as a mirror and a revolutionary tool in evaluating and responding to oppressive historical situations.

Works cited

Lessing, Doris May. This was the old chief's country. Vol. 1. Michael Joseph, 1973.

May 02, 2023


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