Themes and Meanings
Part of Ezekiel Mphahlele’s intention in writing “Mrs. Plum” was to show life under apartheid to a world that in the 1960’s knew little about it. Several details of the story demonstrate the oppression of blacks under South African law: The only black people in Greenside are servants, blacks do not have the right to vote or to criticize the government, there is no protection for Karabo when her employer sexually harasses her, Dick has no right to oppose the police who want to search his quarters, and all blacks are required to carry identification passes that show through which parts of the country they may travel. Karabo does not realize the extent of her oppression until she starts reading the newspapers and attending lectures by Lilian Ngoyi of the African National Congress. Similarly, readers of Mphahlele’s fiction in Europe and the United States (his writing was banned in South Africa and not available to South African audiences until 1979) were largely ignorant of what was happening in the author’s homeland.
More pointedly, however, “Mrs. Plum” is an indictment of white liberals in South Africa who believed that they could change South Africa from within, without giving up their own power. This is a theme Mphahlele returned to again and again in his career, most notably in two other short stories, “The Living and the Dead” (1958) and “We’ll Have Dinner at Eight” (1961). Mrs. Plum is a typical white liberal. She writes books...
(The entire section is 514 words.)