Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Miss Pringle’s superiors in the social welfare organization often describe her with such phrases as “a trifle tiresome, but hardworking,” “a little overbearing, but conscientious,” and “a likeable person, but a queer fish.” Her insistence on repeatedly inviting Mzondi to her flat for dinner points to her shallowness and naïveté, particularly because she always reminds him that they will be alone—an uncomfortable fact of which he needs no reminder. Any relationship between a “tiresome,” “overbearing,” and “queer” white female supervisor and a “crippled,” deeply distrusting black male employee in South Africa’s former apartheid system is certain to be ill-fated. Nevertheless, the fates of these two tragic figures seem to be intertwined. One person is white and female, the other is black and male; one is sexually frustrated but powerful, the other handicapped and powerless; one is naïvely trusting and repulsive, the other is immovably distrusting yet intriguing. Despite a lopsided body racked and made useless by “ever-tired bones” and “withering flesh,” Mzondi bears his physical problems “with irresistible cheek.” The puzzlement of Mzondi’s “pathetic beautiful lips” and steady but almost expressionless eyes captivate Miss Pringle, turning her desire to befriend Mzondi into a passion that she feels for no other inmates in similar condition or even with the same dismal doctor’s report. Her sexual desire for Mzondi is unmistakable, often expressed in overt behavior “whenever she bent over him to show him how to operate the new machine.” Mzondi is as aware of her sexual desire as he is of the country’s Immorality Act, which once forbade interracial liaisons between blacks and whites. Miss Pringle, like Mzondi, is not only fully aware of this law but also understands its consequences because she herself is under the constant surveillance of “the boys from Hospital Hill police station” who “knew...

(The entire section is 800 words.)