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The Traits of an Imperfect World in Once Upon a Time by Nadine Gordimer

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Fear, regret and not having the ability to trust are key aspects in an imperfect world. When one goes through life hiding to protect them from anything bad, he or she hides from all the good in the world. In order for one to have regrets, a cloud of dissatisfaction must be present. Finally, not having faith in humanity sets the world as a whole up to fail. These traits of an imperfect world are present within Nadine Gordimer’s “Once Upon a Time,” an anecdote of a woman living in fear. Gordimer shares the story in which she escapes to as she hears the creaking sounds of what she believes is an intruder in her home.

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself” (FDR). It is vital that one remains optimistic when in a dark situation. Subconsciously, Gordimer thinks of a happy place where no one can harm her, in doing so, she envisions a barrier around the house to protect the family she imagines “…she implored her employers to have burglar bars attached to the doors and windows of the house…” (Gordimer). This statement taken from the author’s imagination shows how the mother is planning on defending against the riots in her “town”. This impulse to put up barriers keeping others out proves that even her ideal life, the one she escapes to in a time of danger, is imperfect. Later in the dream, the father and mother still do not feel safe in their home so they install a dangerous fence to keep intruders out. When doing so, they only fear that the cat would try to leap over and hurt itself. The family doesn’t being to regret this decision until the day after the mother reads the boy a bedtime story. It is after when the boy hurts himself, “…the bleeding mass of the boy was hacked out of the security coil with saws…” (Gordimer). This event happens because the boy is trying to be like the prince in the bedtime story he heard. The world this family is in is imperfect, it is clear that the mother was unaware of what could potentially happen when installing a dangerous fence. The fence serves as a metaphor since the parents should have been more worried about what could happen inside their ‘fence’ rather than preventing the outside world from coming in.

Understanding that the population as a whole must coexists in order to live in peace, but this is not the case since those who go against the norm and have no regard for others help build the foundation for an imperfect world. Gordimer opens her short story by explaining why she is fearful of he current situation due to a murder that occurred last year, “I lay quite still- a victim already” (Gordimer). This statement made by the author shows why one is fearful and how it is impossible to know what could happen in any situation, ultimately trust no one. This idea of fear starts by not having trust, which on the sign near the gate in the authors dream, “YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED” (Gordimer). This idea of warning those who get to close to your property shows how no one in Gordimer’s “ideal” society has trust. Living life in constant fear, trusting no one and having regrets based on the choices one makes explains what it is like to have an imperfect world. Part of being human is being able to rely on those around you and work together to survive as a whole. When one does not comply and simply see the good in the world and those around them, an imperfect world is inevitable.

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