(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“Mrs Plum” is told in the first person by Karabo, a young black South African woman who works for the title character as a housemaid and cook. The time is the 1960’s, and South Africa is still under the strict system of segregation and oppression known as apartheid.

As the story begins, Karabo has been working for Mrs. Plum only a short time and is bewildered by her new employer. Unlike other whites for whom she has worked, Mrs. Plum seems to take a personal interest in Karabo and encourages her to read the newspapers, to learn to sew and to cook from recipes, and to eat her meals at the table with the family. All of this makes Karabo uncomfortable; for her, the boundaries between whites and blacks, between employers and servants, are clear and impermeable, and she does not understand why Mrs. Plum wants to upset things. As she reads the newspapers and attends lectures at the Black Crow Club, Karabo comes to understand that seemingly isolated beatings and arrests of blacks are part of a larger pattern. She learns that Mrs. Plum writes books and pamphlets calling for better treatment for blacks, but she cannot understand why the white woman feels qualified to speak for others.

Mrs. Plum has two dogs, Malan and Monty, on whom she dotes. The dogs have special food, and special beds with pink linen in Mrs. Plum’s room. Dick, the gardener, is charged with feeding and brushing the dogs. Mrs. Plum constantly worries that he is not doing a...

(The entire section is 561 words.)


(Short Stories for Students)

The story opens with Karabo, a young woman from the black South African township of Phokeng, describing her white ‘‘madam,’’ Mrs....

(The entire section is 1020 words.)