"Once Upon a Time" Short Story
Nadine Gordimer’s Once Upon a Time reflects the theme that fear is paralyzing, and it sometimes drives us toward the very reason we are afraid in the first place. Gordimer’s cautionary tale also underscores the importance of facing our fears by being open or informed, instead of isolating with the purpose to protect ourselves. A deeper analysis of Gordimer’s story, especially within the context of the author’s culture and history, Once Upon a Time introduces us to issues related to apartheid.
Gordimer is Jewish, born and raised in South Africa and most of her novels criticize and condemn apartheid, including Once Upon a Time. The following discussion covers further analysis of Gordimer’s story.
Once Upon a Time begins with a short fictional anecdote about Gordimer – the narrator – being asked by a colleague to write a book for children. The narrator refused to do it because she believed that authors should be able to write what they want to write about instead of being ordered to write a story of a specific structure or genre. The narrator then fell asleep after telling the short story and woke up that night because of creaking sounds in the night. To comfort herself and take her mind off her fear, the narrator makes up and narrates a story about a seemingly happy family living in a suburban home. The setting appears to be a dystopian society where numerous crimes and riots take place, but also it is laced with elements of fairy tales or fantasy. While most fairy tales for children end happily, Gordimer’s story ends gruesomely, with the child dying due to the implements his parents bought to keep their home and family safe.
The irony in Once Upon a Times shows that trying to protect ourselves or other people from the real world or the realities becomes our downfall in the end. In the story, the parents go to great lengths to protect themselves from danger but in the end, their child dies within the comfort of their home. From this part of the story, Gordimer wants to say that although there are many dangers in the real world that could harm us, we must not run away or try to protect ourselves from them. On the contrary, we should learn to be open and fearless and deal with difficulties proactively, trying to overcome them instead of running away.
The story illustrates that sometimes people try to run away from reality by blocking it with fairy tale or fantasy. In the story, the child dies after trying to imitate what the Prince did in the fairy tale he had read. Therefore, the story Once Upon a Time demonstrates the dangerous consequences of paying too much emphasis on fairy tales. Children who get use to such stories consider the reality as the magic world and it has a negative influence on their development. In relation to Gordimer’s issues and concerns with apartheid, the author attempts to show how other people’s efforts to keep themselves “safe” by ignoring realities make them ignorant of serious issues pervading society, including racism and chaos. The author suggests that we must tackle these issues instead of pretending that they do not exist just because these issues do not affect us. Being left unresolved, the problems, people trying to escape from, may negatively influence them.