Once Upon A Time Nadine Gordimer Analysis and Summary

Once Upon A Time Nadine Gordimer Analysis and Summary

  • April 22, 2022
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“Once Upon A Time” was published in 1989 and is set in South Africa, an analysis of which reveals that the writer Nadine Gordimer makes a summary of themes of fear, insecurity, death, racism, and becoming a self prisoner to avoid intruders. There are already three stories in this single short story; one the writer/narrator tells the readers, the second, she tells a bedtime story to herself, and the third one that the mother of the boy, in the bedtime story, tells him; however, all three stories share common themes.

The story starts and the writer directly addresses her readers. She has been asked in a written request to write and publish some poems for children but she refuses; however, the person who has requested her to write stories insists that a writer should write stories for children, at least one story in his lifetime. The writer does not agree nor does she accept the dogma, she wants to write what she likes or perhaps what is necessary for the people as she was also a political activist besides a short story writer. 

Being a political activist and having a good imagination, Nadine Gordimer explores sensational topics, creates summary analysis reports, and writes stories on the current situations of her country, South Africa as evident from her short story “Once Upon A Time”. This story is also about her people though she divides them into two categories; one who are intruders and the second who are defenders. 

The writer abruptly starts her story. One night suddenly she wakes up when she hears a strange sound of a creaking wooden floor. At the very beginning of the story, the readers realize that the writer has added the theme of fear to it. It creates suspense; however, ultimately, the fear is of nothing but of the writer’s inner soul. It is also noteworthy that the writer thinks for a while about the safety precautions that she currently has but she finds nothing to make herself secure if a burglar comes for committing the crime.

She talks about different weapons but none of them is in her possession at this time. Overthinking is the problem and she thinks more about her insecurities. She also recalls previous incidents that have happened nearby her area; one of them is when a woman was killed in daylight. From the description that the writer gives, it seems she is very much frightened. Deep analysis of the usage of the word “body-cage” in “Once Upon A Time” symbolizes the intense fear of Nadine Gordimer as she, being the narrator, explores a summary of the events. 

At the very beginning of the short story, there is a description of the theme of fear; the writer has fear of the unknown; secondly, she feels insecure as there is no safety in the vicinity. She also describes the situation of people outside her house through different dreadful events. The Incident of the murder of a woman is a symbol of violence and shaky social restlessness.

Nonetheless, the writer tries to sleep but she can’t. She starts telling herself a bedtime story. It is also ironic that people tell bedtime stories to calm their minds; however, the story that the writer tells is horrific. She starts telling her story.

In a city, three people were living happily; a man, a woman, and a boy. They also had some pets; a cat and a dog. There was a fenced swimming pool at their house. Fences were there around the swimming pool to stop the child from going into the deep water. A loyal and honest housemaid was also there in the house to help them in household activities. The writer finally concludes in the initial description of the story that they also had a gardener to do the gardening. 

The narrator further tells that the family was insured; they had medical insurance and a subscription to a local watch. On their gate nameplate, there was an icon of a masked intruder, and a statement “YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED”. The writer specifically mentions that the warning icon was “masked; it could not be said if he was black or white, and therefore proved the property owner was no racist.” There were riots in the city; however, the family could not be insured for that. 

In-depth analysis of the summary description of images in the bedtime story in “Once Upon A Time” is that Nadine Gordimer wants to inform her readers about the incidents that were happening in her town at the time she wrote this story. Some people were there in South Africa, who were racist and from the events, the readers have an idea that there was a rage between them regarding this issue. Needless to mention that the writer neither mentions the names of the characters nor does she describe where the family was residing.

She continues telling her story. The wife was fearful that people of another color might tear the plaque (nameplate) and enter their house; however, the husband calmed her down and referred to the police and soldiers, who were there to stop them. In the description of the outside political situation, the narrator narrates that “buses were being burned, cars stoned, and schoolchildren were shot by the police”. 

The family had installed an electronic gate and a radio system at the gate to talk to the person who knocked at the door so that they could know who was on the door without opening it.  Another incident that the narrator quotes is of a housemaid, who was tied up at a nearby house when the burglars committed burglary. As a result, the housemaid of the family was very tense, hence, she suggested the family install fences on the walls and an alarm system, which they accepted; however, the pet cat used to disable the alarm system when it jumped here and there in the house.

An analysis of the complete description of the family and the summary of safety precautions in the story “Once Upon A Time” makes it obvious that there was a catastrophe in the city where the narrator (Nadine Gordimer) witnessed the incidents. The family was entirely living an unhappy life despite the fact that the writer writes at the start that they were living happily, hence, makes it ironic. 

The impact of continuous fear is there in the mind of every family member. When the maidservant suggests installing security fences made with “Dragon’s Teeth” brand blade-filled coil, they accept her suggestion without giving it a second thought. It seems that they were continuously making efforts to deal with the horror. Each word of the story reveals panic in their minds. Thus, they constantly deal with it.

One night, the boy’s mother told him a story when he couldn’t sleep in bed; the story was of a prince, who reached the sleeping beauty after crossing hurdles of thorns. The boy was very much impressed with the story. The next morning, he imagined himself as the prince of fairy tales and tried to climb the wall. The new fence system entangled the boy. The alarm system was as usual set off by the cat. The gardener tried to save the boy but couldn’t and the boy died. 

From the summary analysis of the conclusion of “Once Upon A Time” by Nadine Gordimer the critics form an opinion that all the time the family tried to save themselves from outer forces but the boy was harmed by the security system that they installed inside their house. It is ironic that the thing that they install to make themselves secure ultimately kills the boy.

In the whole poem, none of the characters is named. The writer uses the word, the man, the woman, the boy, the maidservant, the gardener, the dog, and the pet. It seems that every character is representative of something. The writer does not tell any story; rather she talks about the political incidents in her country. Every writer can use a powerful technique of symbolism to portray his themes. Nadine Gordimer also uses different symbols to make an analysis of the current affairs of her country and to convey a summary message to her readers in “Once Upon A Time”. 

In addition, the family was living like prisoners. It has separated them from the other people. They think that they are safe but in reality, they are not. Sometimes, circumstances do not let a person live a life of freedom. The story starts with happiness and ends in despair just like a tragedy. The only difference it cannot be called a tragedy is that it is not long enough as mentioned by Aristotle in his book Poetics

There is also another unique technique that the writer uses in this short story i.e. storytelling. She tells her readers a bedtime story but in between the boy’s mother tells another bedtime story. In this way, it gives the writer an ability to this literary technique of implanting a nested narrative within the main story. 

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