Dinner at Eight Summary

Summary (Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The daughter of an upright pastor, Miss Pringle is a self-righteous white South African woman who enjoys having black people hover over her admiringly. Her superficial liberalism has driven her into welfare work, in which she enjoys forcibly befriending helpless and needy Coloureds and Africans. The work fills a void in her otherwise dull life. She heads the Sheltered Employment Depot, a private workshop that trains “incurable cripples” in new trades. Preferring to work with blacks rather than whites because the latter are too independent, Miss Pringle prides herself in her knowledge and understanding of Africans.

Miss Pringle hides her fondness for Mzondi, a black inmate with a disability, under the guise of trying to help him with a problem that she alone perceives. She repeatedly invites him to dinner at her apartment, but he views her attention suspiciously and loathes her lack of decorum. One Monday morning, he is about to turn down her dinner invitation for the fifth time when the routine arrival of a police officer checking on a burglary report at the Depot changes the course of the day. When Mzondi sees the constable and Miss Pringle chatting and glancing in his direction, he assumes that she knows his secret and that this time her invitation is designed to get him drunk in her apartment so that he will confess his secret—that he has made two hundred pounds from bootlegging—so that she can turn him in to the police.

Determined...

(The entire section is 446 words.)