The Nadine Gordimers in Once Upon a Time
- Pages: 5
- Word count: 1161
- Category: Once Upon a Time
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Nadine Gordimers Once Upon a Time begins with the telling of two stories. The first is about the author, who awakes in the middle of the night, afraid of a possible intruder. Then, to distract her mind, she creates a second story. The story is a fairytale of an affluent family living in the suburbs, which have a baseless fear of the impoverished because of preconceived beliefs about racial tension. In response, they attempt to create the perfect home security-system. The two stories relate through their theme of unfounded fear based on handed-down beliefs. In addition, the stories reflect the negative effect and consequences of the defenses that people create to protect themselves from their fear.
Fear is a natural human response and safeguard to threatening situations, yet it does not need a real danger to reveal itself. Often, irrational thinking will lead to exaggerations and generalizations of the improbable, which fosters anxiety. For example, the man and woman within the fairytale story are far removed and protected from any harmful occurrences at the onset of the story. There were riots, but these were outside the city, where people of another color were quarteredthese people were not allowed into the suburbs (253). At this point, the family has not yet encountered violence, the wife is still terrified, people might come up the street and tear off the plaque You Have Been Warned and open the gates and stream in.(253). Similarly, personalizing and focusing only on the emotional aspects of events it creates irrational thinking. For example, the familys maid, disturbed that a fellow housemaid was accosted by thieves and afraid that she would fall victim, implored the employers to have burglar bars attached to the doors and windows of the house (254). The family maid personalizes the emotional fear that her friend experienced, and reacts to that emotion. In addition, unwarranted fear stems from the refusal to become conscious of biased ideologies. they were warned, by that wise old witch, the husbands mother, not to take on anyone off the street (253). The mother passes down her elitist attitudes and a conditioned emotional response of fear towards the homeless. This limited knowledge influences the familys perceptions of the poor and their emotional state.
In response, to protect them from their fear, the man and women create various defenses. For example, it is impossible to live a perfect fantasy life, untouched by the poverty and violence of the poor. However, the story makes several references to living happily ever after, In the house, in a suburb, in a city, there were a man and his wife who loved each other very much and were living happily ever after. (253). It is a mental defense, a denial of reality, to attempt to live a life without any conflicts. Another example of the images of the socially acceptable facades the family adapts. They own all the trappings of material wealth, and have respectable affiliations with a medical society and Neighborhood watch. The family even has a sign which reads, YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED over the silhouette of a would be intruder. He was masked; it could not be said if he was black or white, and therefore proved the property owner was no racist (253). They cloak themselves with elitist and prejudicial views. They use this cloak to defend and hide the racial prejudices they hold from themselves and others. Finally, the most obvious defense that the family creates is physical. The family increasingly creates ugly, security barriers with alarms around their property, high concentration-camp style(255). They believe that the system with its built-in mistrust will protect them from the threat of anyone off the street.
The negative effects of creating mental, emotional, and physical defenses based on ungrounded fear are enormous. The family is acting on a passed-down belief system, which crushes human feeling with inflexibility and distrust of the poor. The husband illustrates this in response to his wifes charity to the hungry; You only encourage them with your bread and tea. They are looking for their chance. (255) Consequently, their fears are projected onto others, so they no longer help the starving. In addition, the suburbia residents lose the beauty and freedom of their homes by turning them into prisons. They no longer pause to admire this show of roses or that perfect lawn; these were hidden behind an array of different varieties of security fences, walls and devices (255)they now saw the trees and sky through bars (254). They go into hiding, closing themselves off to life. Finally, they are intellectually stunted because their anxieties are feeding into their bias. Their failure to think critically is shown when outside the familys wall there were larger red-earth smudges that could have been made by the kind of broken running shows, seen on the feet of unemployed loiterers that had no innocent destination(225). The man and women are assuming that the pair of footprints belong to a loiterer, and infer that the loiter wants to break into their home. This is even after they have increased the height of the wall surrounding their property. In effect, they are creating the very fate they fear though their suspicions; destroying any possibilities of contentment and of a happy-ending.
The inevitable working out of consequences, of human choice overtime, challenges the illusion of control created by the familys defenses. The son unsuccessfully tries to brave the razor-teeth coiled tunnel on the security wall in an attempt to reenact the happy-ending of the fairytale story, Sleeping Beauty. The boy is trapped and mangled from the coiled tunnel. Then the man and his wife burst wildly into the garden while the bleeding mass of the little boy was hacked out of the security coil(256). Something set in motion in the past comes to fruition. It is a family curse that represents the inner conflicts and biases passed down from one generation to another, where the grandparents and parents are unable to face lifes struggles honestly. Consequently, the children inevitably suffer until insight is gained.
Thus, the family is acting on a learned belief system, which creates a groundless fear of the lower class. In essence, they are part of the problem, failing to examine the true reasons behind the riots and thefts, so that they can not offer a constructive change. Alternatively, they produce defenses that do more harm than good, and they enable the very elitist system that is responsible for their conflicts. The story emphasizes the dangers of living in fear because one refuses to become conscious of personal biases. Additionally, it illustrates how the creation of elaborate superficial defenses to hide and protect oneself from the realities of life will fail. No security measure is ever enough to contain the possible dangers that the mind can envision. Unavoidably, something within or without the individual will reach a boiling point that can no longer live within such confines.