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An Analysis of Once Upon a Time by Nadine Gordimer

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The South African Apartheid was a gravely sinister state of affairs in from the early fifties to the nineties that had the idea of unrighteous segregation on its heels. This epic struggle convinced many, including Nadine Gordimer, to act in to some sort of opposition to the segregation called by the Apartheid. Once Upon A Time was written in response to a request to write a story for the children, but it’s also ripe with political and social commentary. Gordimer uses a variety of rhetorical elements, particularly in the last paragraph, that effectively argues her purpose, in the context of South African Apartheid, which is humans forge their own demise from their actions of selfish protection.

The essay leading up to the final paragraph surmises to a story of an idyllic, fairy-taleesque family, which buys further security improvements to protect the family’s wellbeing. The author initially sends us the message of self-destruction by opening with the line the boy was read a fairytale from a book, “the witch,” (Husband’s Mom) had given him. This evidence link back to an earlier detail where the old witch had played for the high wall and the book. Gordimer subtly argues that by grasping the traditions of the old, and by extrapolating them we give ourselves the tools of our own destruction within a closed system of fear, a foreshadow to the ending to add. Another detail that serves Gordimer’s message is where she describes the boy’s noble intentions of acting out the Prince that wakes up Sleeping Beauty by slipping between the bars of the fence heavily fortified with protectionary devices. When someone so innocent and pure of heart gets tangled literally in the barbed wire of hate we set up, we know that it is not anyone’s fault but our own, and only by heading away from deferring of responsibility may we be able to strive toward a world where we do not need nefarious fences.

We also notice that the following sentences are relatively simplistic, elongated accounts of events. While on the surface there is no meaning, this tactic forces us not to turn away from the damage we have caused and to fully read into what we are capable of doing. The previous social commentary delves into the idea of high mindedness, but this shows us that to solve some of the biggest problems of segregation we need to open our eyes. Next, Gordimer graciously describes to us the vivid images of the boy’s body creeping in, getting skewered, and being pulled out as a bloody mess. Instilling these images in the upper citizens, the ones who have a chance to end apartheid, and shows that this problem is not localized to a city outskirt. The problem is here. The only way for us to solve the problem is to teach ourselves and the future generations a lesson of compassion over hate. The images continue to dislodge the notion of the disapproval of colored people; one such image is when the housemaid and the gardener hurt themselves to get the boy instead of his parents getting him! Would people so compassionate ever be able to possess the type of malice projected by the upper-class of the Apartheid? No, they are not; we gain the good faith of people by washing away the lines in the sand instead of drowning in them. The final image we are left with is where the posh couple carries the remains of their son into the couple’s house. It is obvious we feel emotion, but we do get the feeling that this injustice may have been our fault by not promoting acceptance.

Peppered throughout this paragraph is examples of dark, sinister diction such as, “razorteeth”, “screamed and struggled”, “tore his hands”, and “carried it”. The former examples of somber diction is one that shows a transformation from a lighthearted bigger fence in the beginning to a foul wall of malice in the end. This relates to the purpose to show us that even with people of the best intentions, increase some preventive measures, may go arigh and turn evil. The only way to dispel all traces of fear is to stop building these walls, both metaphorical and physical, for a chance of monologue to turn into dialogue between the upper and lower parties of the Apartheid. The last example of diction, “carried it,” shows us that there was so many operations done to the body that there was no recognizable lump of boy in the mass. This just triggers our emotional and logical influences, saying that all of this could have been avoided if we made peace not war. Lastly, the overall use of language demonstrates to us how the story was still whimsical to the very end. A simple, plain repetition of everyday non-figurative terms shows us that the idea of creating a world both magically hateful and segregated that exists in harmony is simply not possible. The only logical, emotional, or even sane course of action to take is to put aside differences and shake hands on partisan lines. The response to write a fairy tale is fulfilled, but not as one would typically suspect it.

This is a fairy tale with a very real moral. While this short story is definitely not for your young kids, it shows us that we all have a thing to learn from young people. They show us why when we build our own walls we only hurt ourselves but we also contribute to the demise of humanity, and it is all rationalized by some pity self-protection clause. The message in Gordimer’s piece, Once Upon A Time, applies to us today as much as it did during the Apartheid in South Africa. Only then, by adopting a message of acceptance and not rejection may we be able to fully understand, without ominous protection, what it means to be safe.

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