Once Upon Time By Nadine Gordimer
Once Upon a Social Issue Fairy tales have always been told to us as children;
whether to comfort or entertain us, they always seem to be a part of most
everyone’s childhood. When Nadine Gordimer was asked to write a children’s
story, she replied with a short story titled "Once Upon A Time". Although
the title is characteristic of a fairy tale, she leads the tale to an ending
that is anything other than "...happily ever after." Gordimer distorts the
fairy tale by dealing with certain issues rather than giving the reader the
usual fairy tale characteristics. Three of the more significant issues Gordimer
likes to deal with in her story are racial discrimination and prejudice,
society’s insecurities, and the persuasive way fairy tales have with children.

Gordimer’s "Once Upon A Time" has the feeling of insecurity right away. In
the first part of her story, Gordimer reminds us of our own insecurities. She
brings up a familiar situation in which one is awakened by a bump in the night
and cannot go back to sleep because of fear or their own insecurities. Gordimer
writes, "I have no burglar bars, no gun under the pillow, but I have the same
fears as people who do take these precautions..." So, to better convey this
issue of society’s insecurities, she tells herself a bedtime story. In the
story, there is a family who is living "...happily ever after", yet is seems
it is all that they can do to keep it that way. Rather than putting their
insecurities aside and getting on with their lives, they feel that they must put
their trust in security devices to protect their selves. For a short while, the
family has a sense of security by posting a plaque stating "’YOU HAVE BEEN

WARNED" over the silhouette of a prospective intruder. After a short time the
family’s psychological need for more security calls for a number of new
security devices in order to sustain the top level of security. It is in the
family’s pursuit of this "security" that they virtually imprison
themselves. After the installation of burglar bars, Gordimer describes the view"from every window and door in the house where they were living happily ever
after they now saw the trees and sky through bars." One of the less obvious
issues lining "Once Upon A Time" is racial discrimination. Gordimer first
suggestion that this suburb may be slightly racist is by stating that the plaque
on their gate warning possible intruders didn’t designate black or white,
therefore protesting too much the owner of the home not to be a racist. By
adding this statement, Gordimer lets there be evidence for a possible racism
problem in this suburb. Gordimer’s statement of riots outside of the city was
also supporting evidence toward racism in this place. The only black people that
were allowed in the suburbs were those considered to be trustworthy gardeners or
housemaids, and soon the trustworthy were not the only black people to be
loitering around the suburb. Gordimer writes of the community stating "it was
a beautiful suburb, spoilt only by [the black people’s] presence." With the
coming of these undesired guests, the family’s sense of security begins to
weaken yet again. In order to further suppress their insecure feelings, they
decide to raise the walls surrounding the property to a height of seven feet.

Later, after finding footprints that were not their own on the street side of
the wall, the family’s sense of security was further diminished. As a final
attempt at gaining complete security, the family pondered the addition of even
more protection for their outside wall. The family’s pursuit of a mental
security booster was finished when they lined the outside walls with razor wire
that formed an unconquerable barrier. Feeling quite safe with their new wire
defense, the mother finally feels secure enough to let her guard down and read
her little boy a fairy tale. The fairy tale, a story about a prince who dashes
through a terrible thicket of thorns to enter the palace and kiss the Sleeping

Beauty and bring her back to life. Children, having the imaginations that they
do, sometimes like to pretend to be a hero as in the fairy tale. So, the next
day, the little boy decides to also save the sleeping beauty by crawling through
the shinny new obstacle atop the outside wall. Once inside the young prince
began to charge through the insurmountable odds, and found them to be truly
insurmountable. The tunnel of stainless