oa Alternation - Orality and the South African short story: Es'kia Mphahlele's 'Mrs Plum'

Volume 15, Issue 2
  • ISSN : 1023-1757



In her study of the works of Es'kia Mphahlele, Ursula Barnett quotes a letter to her from the author in which he remarks that 'Mrs Plum' was 'the best thing I ever pulled off. It is certainly Mphahlele's most widely discussed and anthologised story, and justifiably so: it is an acute and subtle interrogation of white liberalism in South Africa by a black narrator whose steady growth in knowledge and understanding allows her to prise apart the liberal ideology of her employer and to expose the hypocrisy and injustice that it contains. 'Mrs Plum' is narrated by Karabo, a black woman in her early twenties, and the chief focus of the narrative is what Karabo experiences in her three-year stint as a domestic worker for Mrs Plum. Mrs Plum lives in Greenside (which signifies 'wealthy Johannesburg northern suburbs') and, in the words of Karabo, 'love[s] dogs and Africans and said that everyone must follow the law even if it hurt' (Mphahlele 1967:164).

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