Mphahlele, Es’kia (Ezekiel) 1919–
Es’kia (Ezekiel) Mphahlele 1919–
The great fictional chronicler of South African life in the apartheid era is Es’kia Mphahlele, whose career has spanned South African beginngs, two decades of exile, and finally a return home. Though his was rarely a literature of overt protest, his writings were all the more effective in bringing home the wounds of racial segregation because of their realistic and sympathetic treatment of South Africans of all backgrounds. Mphahlele has drawn heavily on his own experiences in his novels, short stories, poems, and autobiographical works. In so doing, however, he has told the story of an entire people.
Ezekiel Mphahlele was born in Pretoria, South Africa, on December 17, 1919. He Africanized his name to Es’kia after his return to South Africa in 1979 but is still known by the nickname “Zeke.” Mphahlele’s upbringing was a mix of the African and the Western. He grew up speaking a dialect of the Sotho language (first learning English in school), and until he was a young teenager he lived with his paternal grandmother in the village of Maupaneng. He herded goats and remembered the mountainous landscape of his childhood nostalgically, although his grandmother ruled him with an iron hand.
When he was 13 Mphahlele moved in with his parents in Pretoria. The family lived in one of the city’s black townships, Marabastad, which was a jumble of crowded tenement housing and violent streets. Mphahlele’s father was arrested after attacking his mother with a pot of boiling stew, and his parents divorced. His mother, Eva, worked as a maid and financed the best education she could for her son, even though teachers told the often-terrorized youngster that he was “backward,” as Mphahlele recalled in his 1959 autobiography, Down Second Avenue. Mphahlele graduated from St. Peter’s, a top high school in what is now Lesotho, and went on to earn a teaching certificate from a religious institution, the Adams Teachers Training College, in the state of Natal.
From 1941 to 1945 Mphahlele worked as a clerk in a school for the blind, and in 1947 he took a job teaching English and Afrikaans (the language of South Africa’s Dutch-descended white colonizers) at Orlando High School in the South African capital of Johannesburg. He married an education student, Rebecca Mochadibane, in 1945, and the couple had five children. By the
At a Glance…
Born Ezekiet Mphahlele on December 17, 1919, in Pretoria, South Africa: son of Moses (a messenger) and Eva Mogale (a domestic worker) Mphahlele; married Rebecca Mochadibane (a social worker), 1945; five children. Education: Graduated from Adams Teachers Training College, South Africa, 1940; University of South Africa, BA, 1949, MA, 1956; University of Denver, PhD, 1968.
Career: Clerk at school for the blind, 1941-45; taught high school in South Africa, 1945-52; Drum magazine, Johannesburg, writer and fiction editor, 1955-57; International Association for Cultural Freedom, Paris, director of African programs, 1961-63; taught and lectured in Nigeria, Kenya, Zambia, and U.S.A., 1957-77; University of the Witwatersrand, professor, 1978-87, professor emeritus, 1987-.
Selected awards; Carnegie Foundation grant, 1980; honorary doctorate, University of Pennsylvania, 1982.
Address: Office —African Studies Institute, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg 2001, South Africa.
time he started teaching, Mphahlele had already begun to write. His short story collection Man Must Live and Other Stories, containing vivid tales of the Pretoria ghetto where he grew up, was published in 1947 and came close to selling out its entire initial print run, even though Mphahlele was completely unknown as an author.
Mphahlele earned, entirely by mail, a bachelor of arts degree from the University of South Africa in 1949 and a master’s degree in 1956. At that time the segregation laws obliged the university to organize a graduation ceremony for him alone. By that time he had been fired from his teaching job for protesting the government’s Bantu Education Act, which had the effect of institutionalizing segregation in South Africa’s public schools. For a time Mphahlele worked as a journalist on the staff of a newspaper called Drum, which was aimed at black South Africans. Though he disliked the journalistic atmosphere and was increasingly enraged by the worsening situation of South African blacks, Mphahlele wrote short stories for Drum about a family named Lesane, alternately funny and grim, which are considered among his best early works.
In 1957 Mphahlele decided that he would have to leave South Africa in order to realize his dreams as a writer. He moved his family to Lagos, Nigeria, even though the only way a black South African could obtain an exit visa in those days was to promise that he would never return. In 1961 the government banned publication of his works in South Africa, charging Mphahlele with subversion. Some of the bans remained in effect even after Mphahlele returned later to South Africa.
Two of Mphahlele’s best-known works were published while he was in Nigeria, the autobiography Down Second Avenue in 1959 and the short-story collection The Living and Dead, and Other Stories in 1961. Down Second Avenue was a vivid document that described Mphahlele’s own experiences with the dehumanizing frustrations and sometimes outright violence of apartheid. The work also described the lives of black South Africans in general, and a spate of autobiographies by other black South African writers followed in the wake of Mphahlele’s book.
In Nigeria Mphahlele associated with a group of West African writers who were attempting to define the future direction of African literature. He moved on to Paris in 1961, to Nairobi, Kenya, in 1963, to Denver, Colorado, in 1966 (where Mphahlele earned a Ph.D. degree), and to Lusaka, Zambia, in 1968, where he taught English at the University of Zambia. In 1967 his short-story collection In Corner B was published in Nairobi; it contained “Mrs. Plum,” a widely admired story of a white South African woman who displays liberal attitudes but is nevertheless incapable of treating blacks as individuals.
Mphahlele’s first novel, The Wanderers, was published in 1971 while he was living in Zambia. It dealt with the troubles and eventual exile of a figure whose life paralleled Mphahlele’s own in many respects. The main character, Timi, edits a magazine Mphahlele calls Bongo, and, like Mphahlele, Timi must decide whether or not to leave his country. The Wanderers gained considerable attention in the United States, to which Mphahlele returned in 1970. He took teaching jobs at the University of Denver in 1970 and the University of Pennsylvania in 1974, and he could easily have remained in the United States for the rest of his life as an admired elder statesman of world literature.
But Mphahlele felt cut off from his cultural and creative roots. “I couldn’t grasp the cultural goals of the Americans,” he was quoted as saying in the New York Times. “I found them so fragmented. I asked myself, ‘What am I contributing to American education?’ I had no answer.” He also feared growing old in a country where he felt that senior citizens were ostracized, an attitude opposite from the veneration the elderly could expect in African cultures. Against the advice of friends, Mphahlele resolved to return to South Africa. Though the country’s cultural atmosphere had been liberalized somewhat in recent years, the enormous risks he took by returning were demonstrated when the government revoked a teaching job that he had been offered at the University of the North.
For a time Mphahlele was stranded in the township of Lebowa and supported his family as an education inspector, but in 1979 the University of the Witwatersrand, white South Africa’s leading English-speaking institution, offered him a teaching and research position. Residential segregation regulations at first made it impossible for Mphahlele to take the position, but the university exerted its influence and the authorities looked the other way. In the 1980s the government bans on Mphahlele’s earlier works were gradually lifted.
Mphahlele’s major post-exile work was a second volume of his autobiography, Afrika My Music, published in 1984 and covering his years of exile. In his later years, Mphalele has taught, lectured vigorously, collected and published oral poetry among South Africa’s tribal peoples, and actively involved himself in the cultural life of his rapidly changing country. In 1990 he wrote a biography of South African leader Nelson Mandela. After the official end of apartheid in 1994, Mphahlele became widely honored as one of the cultural pioneers who had laid the groundwork for the freedom of black South Africans. At a speech he gave upon receiving one award, he said, according to Africa News, “We must reinvent ourselves because selfrenewal is important. You are always at the starting point in life. If you aren’t, then you die.”
Man Must Live, and Other Stories, African Bookman, 1946.
Down Second Avenue, Faber & Faber, 1959 (U.S. edition, Anchor/Doubleday, 1971).
The Living and Dead, and Other Stories, Nigerian Ministry of Education, 1961.
In Corner B, East African Publishing House, 1967.
The Wanderers, Macmillan, 1971.
Chirundu, Ravan, 1979 (U.S. edition, Hill, 1981).
Afrika My Music, Ravan, 1984.
Renewal Time, Readers International, 1988.
Mandela: Echoes of an Era, Penguin, 1990.
Contemporary Novelists, 6th ed., St. James, 1996.
Cox, C. Brian, ed., African Writers, Scribners, 1997.
Lindfors, Bernth, and Reinhard Sander, eds., Twentieth-Century Caribbean and Black African Writers: Second Series (Dictionary of Literary Biography, vol. 125), Gale, 1993.
Tucker, Martin, ed., Literary Exile in the Twentieth Century, Greenwood, 1991.
Wordworks, Manitou, ed., Modern Black Writers, 2nd ed., St. James, 2000.
Zell, Hans M., and Helene Silver, A Reader’s Guide to African Literature, Africana Publishing, 1971.
Africa News, October 2, 2001.
New York Times, November 16, 1980, section 1, p. 3.
St. Petersburg Times, March 5, 1989, p. D7.
“Ezekiel Mphahlele,” Contemporary Authors Online, reproduced in Biography Resource Center, www.galenet.com/servlet/BioRC (March 25, 2003).
—James M. Manheim
"Mphahlele, Es’kia (Ezekiel) 1919–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 20, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/mphahlele-eskia-ezekiel-1919
"Mphahlele, Es’kia (Ezekiel) 1919–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Retrieved September 20, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/mphahlele-eskia-ezekiel-1919
Modern Language Association
The Chicago Manual of Style
American Psychological Association
Ezekiel Mphahlele (born 1919) is an acknowledged scholar on African literature. His works have been regarded as the most balanced of African literature.
"A writer who has been regarded as the most balanced literary critic of African literature," Ezekiel Mphahlele can also "be acknowledged as one of its most significant creators," writes Emile Snyder in the Saturday Review. Mphahlele's transition from life in the slums of South Africa to life as one of Africa's foremost writers was an odyssey of struggle both intellectually and politically. He trained as a teacher in South Africa but was banned from the classroom in 1952 as a result of his protest of the segregationist Bantu Education Act. Although he later returned to teaching, Mphahlele first turned to journalism, criticism, fiction, and essay writing. Mphahlele is acknowledged as one of the leading scholars on African literature.
During an exile that took him to France and the United States, Mphahlele was away from Africa from over a decade. Nevertheless, "no other author has ever earned the right to so much of Africa as has Ezekiel Mphahlele," says John Thompson in the New York Review of Books. "In the English language, he established the strength of African literature in our time." Some critics, however, feel that Mphahlele's absence from his homeland has harmed his work by separating him from its subject. Ursula A. Barnett, writing in the conclusion of her 1976 biography Ezekiel Mphahlele, asserts that Mphahlele's "creative talent can probably gain its full potential only if he returns to South Africa and resumes his function of teaching his discipline in his own setting, and of encouraging the different elements in South Africa to combine and interchange in producing a modern indigenous literature."
Mphahlele himself has agreed with this assessment, for after being officially silenced by the government of his homeland and living in self-imposed exile for twenty years, Mphahlele returned to South Africa in 1977. "I want to be part of the renaissance that is happening in the thinking of my people," he commented. "I see education as playing a vital role in personal growth and in institutionalizing a way of life that a people chooses as its highest ideal. For the older people, it is a way of reestablishing the values they had to suspend along the way because of the force of political conditions. Another reason for returning, connected with the first, is that this is my ancestral home. An African cares very much where he dies and is buried. But I have not come to die. I want to reconnect with my ancestors while I am still active. I am also a captive of place, of setting. As long as I was abroad I continued to write on the South African scene. There is a force I call the tyranny of place; the kind of unrelenting hold a place has on a person that gives him the motivation to write and a style. The American setting in which I lived for nine years was too fragmented to give me these. I could only identify emotionally and intellectually with the African-American segment, which was not enough. Here I can feel the ancestral Presence. I know now what Vinoba Bhave of India meant when he said: 'Though action rages without, the heart can be tuned to produce unbroken music,' at this very hour when pain is raging and throbbing everywhere in African communities living in this country."
His 1988 publication Renewal Time, contains stories he published previously as well as an autobiographical afterword on his return to South Africa and a section from Afrika My Music, his 1984 autobiography. Stories like "Mrs. Plum" and "The Living and the Dead" have received praise by critics reviewing Mphahlele's work. Charles R. Larson, reviewing the work in the Washington Post Book World, says that the stories in the book present "almost ironic images of racial tension under apartheid." He cites "Mrs. Plum" as "the gem of this volume." The story is a first-person narrative by a black South African servant girl, and through her words, says Larson, "Mphahlele creates the most devastating picture of a liberal South African white."
Chirundu, Mphahlele's first novel since his return to South Africa, "tells with quiet assurance this story of a man divided," says Rose Moss in a World Literature Today review. The novel "is clearly this writer's major work of fiction and, I suppose, in one sense, an oblique commentary on his own years of exile," observes Larson in an article for World Literature Today. Moss finds that in his story of a man torn between African tradition and English law, "the timbre of Mphahlele's own vision is not always clear"; nevertheless, the critic admits that "in the main his story presents the confused and wordless heart of his charcter with un-pretentious mastery." "Chirundu is that rare breed of fiction—a novel of ideas, and a moving one at that," says Larson. "It has the capacity to involve the reader both intellectually and emotionally." The critic concludes by calling the work "the most satisfying African novel of the past several years."
On the subject of writing, Mphahlele commented: "In Southern Africa, the black writer talks best about the ghetto life he knows; the white writer about his own ghetto life. We see each other, black and white, as it were through a keyhole. Race relations are a major experience and concern for the writer. They are his constant beat. It is unfortunate no one can ever think it is healthy both mentally and physically to keep hacking at the social structure in overcharged language. A language that burns and brands, scorches and scalds. Language that is a machete with a double edge—the one sharp, the other blunt, the one cutting, the other breaking. And yet there are levels of specifically black drama in the ghettoes that I cannot afford to ignore. I have got to stay with it. I bleed inside. My people bleed. But I must stay with it."
Two biographies on Mphahlele are available. They are Ursula A. Barnett, Ezekiel Mphahlele (1976) and N. Chabani Manganyi, Exiles and Homecomings: A Biography of Es'kia Mphahlele (1983). Gerald Moore also wrote two books of interest: South African Writers (1962) and The Chosen Tongue (1969). Books of relevance that the subject, himself, wrote include Afrika My Music: An Autobiography, 1957-1983 (1984) and Down Second Avenue (1959). See also Twentieth Century Caribbean and Black African Writers (1993); African Writers Talking (edited by Dennis Durden, 1972); Donald E. Herdeck, African Writers: A Companion to Black African Writing, 1300-1973 (1973); and South African Voices (edited by Bernth Lindfors, 1975). □
"Ezekiel Mphahlele." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 20, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/ezekiel-mphahlele
"Ezekiel Mphahlele." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Retrieved September 20, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/ezekiel-mphahlele
Modern Language Association
The Chicago Manual of Style
American Psychological Association
Es'kia Mphahlele (Ezekiel Es'kia Mphahlele) (ĕskē´ə əmfəlā´lā), 1919–2008, South African writer, grad. Univ. of South Africa (M.A., 1956). He began his career as a writer for Drum magazine after World War II and he published his first stories, Man Must Live, in 1947. He emigrated from South Africa in 1957, when the government banned him because of his stand against apartheid. He received a Ph.D. from the Univ. of Denver (1968) and left a full professorship at the Univ. of Pennsylvania to return to South Africa in 1977. In 1978 he became the first black professor at Witwatersrand Univ. and founded the African literature dept. there. His Down Second Avenue (1959) is a moving, vivid account of growing up in South Africa; it has become a classic of modern African literature. His novel The Wanderers (1969) was banned for many years in South Africa. Another novel, Chirundu (1980), takes place in an imaginary African country. He also published two volumes of essays.
See his later autobiography Afrika My Music (1984) and selected letters (1984); studies by U. A. Barnett (1976), T. Akosu (1995), and R. Obee (1999).
"Mphahlele, Es'kia." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 20, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/mphahlele-eskia
"Mphahlele, Es'kia." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved September 20, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/mphahlele-eskia
Modern Language Association
The Chicago Manual of Style
American Psychological Association
Nationality: South African. Born: Ezekiel Mphahlele in Pretoria, 17 December 1919. Education: St. Peter's Secondary School, Johannesburg; Adam's College, Natal, 1939-40; University of South Africa, Pretoria, 1946-49, 1953-54, 1956, B.A. (honors) 1949, M.A. in English 1956; University of Denver, 1966-68, Ph.D. in English 1968. Family: Married Rebecca Mochadibane in 1945; five children. Career: Clerk in institution for the blind, 1941-45; English and Afrikaans teacher, Orlando High School, Johannesburg, 1945-52; fiction editor, Drum, Johannesburg, 1955-57; lecturer in English literature, University of Ibadan, Nigeria, 1957-61; editor, Black Orpheus, Ibadan, 1960-66, and Journal of New African Literature and the Arts; director of African Programmes, International Association for Cultural Freedom, Paris, 1961-63; director, Chemchemi Creative Centre, Nairobi, Kenya, 1963-65; lecturer, University College, Nairobi, 1965-66; senior lecturer in English, University of Zambia, Lusaka, 1968-70; associate professor of English, University of Denver, 1970-74; professor of English, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, 1974-77; inspector of Education, Lebowa, Transvaal, 1978-79; professor of African literature, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, 1979-87; director of a community education project in Soweto for the Council for Black Education and Research, from 1987. Lives in Johannesburg. Awards: Honorary degrees: D.Litt.: University of Natal, Durban; Rhodes University, Grahamstown. L.H.D.: University of Pennsylvania.
Man Must Live and Other Stories. 1947.
The Living and Dead and Other Stories. 1961.
In Corner B and Other Stories. 1967.
The Unbroken Song: Selected Writings of Es'kia Mphahlele (includes verse). 1981.
Renewal Time (includes essays). 1988.
The Wanderers. 1971.
Down Second Avenue (autobiography). 1959.
The African Image (essays). 1962; revised edition, 1974.
The Role of Education and Culture in Developing African Countries. 1965.
A Guide to Creative Writing. 1966.
Voices in the Whirlwind and Other Essays. 1972.
Let's Write a Novel. 1981.
Bury Me at the Marketplace: Selected Letters of Es'kia Mphahlele 1943-1980. edited by N. Chabani Manganyi. 1984.
Father Come Home (for children). 1984.
Afrika My Music: An Autobiography 1957-1983. 1984.
Let's Talk Writing: Prose [Poetry]. 2 vols., 1986.
Poetry and Humanism: Oral Beginnings (lecture). 1986.
Editor, with Ellis Komey, Modern African Stories. 1964.
Editor, African Writing Today. 1967.*
Seven African Writers, 1962, and The Chosen Tongue, 1969, both by Gerald Moore; "The South African Short Story," by Mphahlele in Kenyon Review, 1969; Mphahlele by Ursula A. Barnett, 1976; "South African History, Politics and Literature: Mphahlele's Down Second Avenue and Rive's Emergency " by O O. Obuke, in African Literature Today 10, 1979; Exiles and Homecomings: A Biography of Mphahlele by N. Chabani Manganyi, 1983; "A Man Is a Man Because of Other Men: The "Lesane" Stories of Es'kia Mphahlele" by Rob Gaylard, in English in Africa, May 1995, pp. 72-90.* * *
The short stories published by Ezekial (Es'kia) Mphahlele between 1946 and 1967 raise issues inherent in the production of literature by black South Africans in the early years of grand apartheid. The short story was a medium of necessity rather than choice to a writer whose night studies and political involvement precluded any longer genre. For this reason his stories do not fit organically into the traditional mold. Some, like "Mrs. Plum" or "Grieg on a Stolen Piano," verge on the novella. In others, notably "Man Must Live," "Out, Brief Candle," and "Unwritten Episodes," the temporal span and range of settings sit uneasily in a condensed framework.
Mphahlele's themes and plots came increasingly to reflect South African realities—dispossession, the effects of apartheid on ordinary existence, racial conflict, the shaping of destinies by oppressive laws—with sharper and more focused writing the result of this shift. Mphahlele has stated, however, that in his early stories he was interested "in people, in their own ghetto life and their own little dramas and tragedies, which would not necessarily have to do with the racial issue."
Mphahlele's first volume of stories, Man Must Live, concentrates almost exclusively on life in black townships or rural settlements. These youthful stories are crudely structured and episodic. Mphahlele himself described the publication as a clumsy piece of writing. Nevertheless, the title story introduces the theme and pattern of much of Mphahlele's work—the imperative of survival seen in the context of an individual odyssey. Khalima Zungu's rise, through labor as opposed to study, to a position in the railway police and his fall from grace after marrying a wealthy, educated woman exemplify Mphahlele's preoccupation with life's ironies. Zungu's aptitude for manual labor, which sets him on the road to success, becomes his sole means of survival when he is abandoned by his wife and adopted family.
A more heavy-handed irony is evident in "Unwritten Episodes," the tale of a young couple who fall in love only to discover that they are siblings, the final twist emerging when the revelation is shown to be false. "Out, Brief Candle" reveals how a childhood taunt, repeated in adulthood, leads to a murder. Though not directly autobiographical, as indeed much of Mphahlele's most representative and acclaimed work is, there is in these early attempts a restlessness and rootlessness characteristic of the author's life and of the lives of dispossessed people in general.
The next phase of Mphahlele's story writing career was the result of his position as a journalist on the black periodical Drum. Mphahlele claims that in the Drum stories, some of which appeared in his later collections, he "put the ghetto people aside, by themselves, acting out their dramas but at the same time implying the political pressure over them." Thus, a note of protest entered his fiction at this point.
The anomalies of black urban existence emerge in "Lesane," in which a wedding provides an opportunity for examining the pressures exerted by a racist bureaucracy on individual guests. In a brilliant exposé of the absurdity of the system, we encounter Ma-Ntoi, "who came from a mining town in the Free state from which she had been expelled because she couldn't own a house as she was a widow." Other guests similarly are afflicted by apartheid legislation.
Both "Blind Alley" and "Across the Down Stream," later reprinted as "The Coffee-Cart Girl," set a love triangle against the backdrop of political demonstration, and the underlying warning of these stories is that there can be no normal relationships in an abnormal society. Simple romantic tales are not possible since the ties between people are jeopardized by a repressive regime. In "Blind Alley" Ditsi sees the irony of agitating for more housing when his political activities have sent his wife into another man's arms and led to his own arrest, and he realizes the sheer hopelessness of "wanting a descent house with no home to house."
The Living and Dead introduces white characters for the first time and dwells at some length on racial conflict. The author's disillusionment and bitterness are detectable in the title story, in which the character of the white boss, Stoffel Visser, working on a report "on kaffir servants in the suburbs," is held up to ridicule and finally dismissed with revulsion. Visser's black servant, Jackson, who "served him with the devotion of a trained animal," is injured, and, simultaneously, a letter from his impoverished father falls into his employer's hands. Visser is momentarily tempted to treat his servant with kindness, but he concludes, "Better continue treating him as a name, not as a human being." "The Master of Doornvlei" examines a similar relationship between a farmer and his foreman. Once again the concluding reflection of the master is indicative of the economic basis of entrenched racism: "And then he was glad. He had got rid of yet another threat to his authority." Mphahlele's deep-seated resentment against the nation that enslaved his people must be seen against the background of the master-servant relationship that was not just material for stories but also a living reality. Admitting his tendency to caricature the white man, Mphahlele said, "I will still enjoy engineering my own poetic justice against him."
In Corner B contains stories from earlier collections and publications as well as two of Mphahlele's most successful stories, "A Point of Identity" and "Mrs. Plum." The first of these traces the destructive effects of the infamous Population Registration Act, according to which people had to be racially classified, often by arbitrary means: "A comb was put into their hair; if it fell out, they must have straight or curly hair and so one condition was fulfilled." Karl Almeida, the product of mixed parentage, lives contentedly in a Pretoria township with his African wife until he succumbs to the convenience of being classified "coloured" as opposed to "black." The subsequent association of sickness and death with the iniquitous policy of racial segregation enriches the story and imbues it with a painful but salutary logic.
Mphahlele described "Mrs. Plum" as "the best thing" he "ever pulled off." The story's point of view, with a black servant recounting the history of her relationship with her employer, Mrs. Plum, is its strongest and most convincing feature. The liberal Mrs. Plum, who is briefly incarcerated for her refusal to permit the police to investigate past offenses on her property, is subtly exposed as an ignorant, self-deluding, self-aggrandizing, hypocritical individual. This is achieved through Karabo's detached observation of her employer's relationship with her two pet dogs, who are accorded a higher status than the servants she patronizes. At the climax of the story, Karabo's feelings of revulsion are dramatically conveyed to the reader when she peeps through a keyhole and witnesses her mistress performing a sexual act with the pampered "gentlemen," the dogs Monty and Malan.
Mrs. Plum's well-meaning efforts to educate Karabo backfire. As her refrain ("I learned. I grew up") indicates, Karabo's education heightens her awareness of her mistress's foibles. She leaves Mrs. Plum's employment after this self-appointed liberal defender of the oppressed African refuses to grant her compassionate leave. Mrs. Plum is eventually forced to negotiate with Karabo, who returns on her own terms.
"Mrs. Plum" is a success not only in its exposé of the hypocrisy of white liberals but also in its sophisticated interweaving of social injustice (migratory labor, pass laws) with the real behind-the-scenes drama of black existence in white suburbs. The confidence that this achievement gave Mphahlele enabled him to embark on the longer autobiographical writings that mark the pinnacle of his literary career.
"Mphahlele, Es'kia." Reference Guide to Short Fiction. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 20, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/mphahlele-eskia
"Mphahlele, Es'kia." Reference Guide to Short Fiction. . Retrieved September 20, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/mphahlele-eskia
Modern Language Association
The Chicago Manual of Style
American Psychological Association
MPHAHLELE, Es'kia. (Ezekiel Mphahlele). Also writes as Bruno Esekie. South African, b. 1919. Genres: Novels, Novellas/Short stories, Poetry, Autobiography/Memoirs, Essays. Career: University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, professor, 1979-88, professor emeritus of literature, 1988-. Teacher of English and Afrikaans, Orlando High School, Johannesburg, 1945-52; fiction ed., Drum mag., Johannesburg, 1955-57; lecturer in English literature, University of Ibadan, Nigeria, 1957-61; director of African progs., International Association for Cultural Freedom, Paris, 1961-63; director of Chemichemi Creative Centre, Nairobi, Kenya, 1963-65; lecturer, University College, Nairobi, 1965-66, University of Denver, 1966-74, and University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, 1974-77, associate professor, professor, 1974-77, Black Education and Research; founding director council 1980-94; University of the North, Northern Transvaal, honorary professor of English; lecturing and conducting writers' workshops. Publications: Man Must Live and Other Stories, 1947; Down Second Avenue (autobiography), 1959; The Living and Dead and Other Stories, 1961; The African Image (essays), 1962; (ed. with E. Komey) Modern African Stories, 1964; (ed.) African Writing Today, 1967; In Corner B and Other Stories, 1967; The Wanderers (novel), 1971; Voices in the Whirlwind and Other Essays, 1972; Chirundu (novel), 1979; The Unbroken Song, 1981; Bury Me at the Marketplace (letters), 1984; Father Come Home (novel), 1984; Afrika My Music: An Autobiography 1957-1983, 1986; Renewal Time (short stories), 1988; Let's Talk Writing: Prose, 1985; Let's Talk Writing: Poetry, 1985; Crossing Over (novella), 1999; Es'kia (essays), Vol. 2, 2002. Address: PO Box 303, Chuenespoort, Limpopo Prov 0745, Republic of South Africa. Online address: [email protected]
"Mphahlele, Es'kia." Writers Directory 2005. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 20, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/culture-magazines/mphahlele-eskia
"Mphahlele, Es'kia." Writers Directory 2005. . Retrieved September 20, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/culture-magazines/mphahlele-eskia