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The Theme of Fear and the Characterization of the Wife in Once Upon a Time by Nadine Gordimer

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Fear can often hurt you more than the object you are in fear of. The hurt is not necessary physical but also mental. When you fear something you are most likely to psych yourself out unreasonably, think of the worst things possible when the chance of those things happening are slim to none. In Nadine Gordimer’s “Once Upon a Time” the characterization of the wife is used to show that living in fear does not always make life better. Throughout the short story The Wife exhibits fearfulness. The Wife and her family live in a suburb where the generality focuses on the maximum security for their home and family from the outside world. “…there was nothing to fear, the husband told the wife. Yet she was afraid…” (Gordimer 164). This quote illustrates how no matter what anyone tells The Wife she will still fear. Nothing can convince her against her fear. Consequently she lives in fear which is not really living at all.

Furthermore although The Wife is engulfed in fear and no one can persuade her out of her fear she is very easily influenced when it comes to adding or strengthening their security. The housemaid recommends to have burglar bars attached to the doors and windows of the house and also to add an alarm system. “She is right, let us take heed of her advice” (Gordimer 164). Without hesitation or questioning The Wife is all for adding more security which shows how she easily influenced because of her fearfulness. The Husband explains to his wife that someone could still be able to merely climb the wall or security gates. “You are right, said the wife, then the wall should be higher.” (Gordimer 165). All together these two quotes give evidence that The Wife is easily influenced because either time she does not hesitate to agree with someone’s thoughts or ideas. Her life revolves around getting more safety.

In addition is The Wife’s selfishness. There are countless ways to show how she is selfish. “The wife could never see anyone go hungry. She sent the trusted housemaid out with  bread and tea…” (Gordimer 165). Although this shows The Wife’s sympathy it shows how she is selfish because she does not want to put herself in danger when giving tea and bread to the homeless so she sends the housemaid out to do it. Overall The Wife’s fearfulness is the root of everything and in the end all The Wife’s fear ends up hurting them the most. The Husband and Wife lose their son to their new security system. Ironically the new security was supposed to shield from danger but in the end it created danger and killed the son. The Wife’s fearfulness, way to be easily influenced and selfishness shows how living in fear cannot only make your life worse but could really mean not mentally living at all.

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