Fairy tales are what generations have grown up with, beginning with the Disney princesses including Red Riding Hood. Nadine Gordimer’s short story “Once Upon a Time” started out happy and ended abrupt and depressing. The majority of fairytales have a happy ending and overall teaches a lesson. In most fairy tales, the story begins with the problem and ends in happiness. Irony begins in “ Once Upon A Time” when it starts out with happiness and with the characters being content, and then it switches to the problem at the end which leaves the readers thinking.
The story is set in South Africa during the time of Apartheid. Apartheid is a system of segregation/discrimination of race South Africans were subject to in 1948. The government caused this separation between whites and the native black Africans in the country. Whites were the majority rule, meanwhile the minorities were forced to move out of their homes completely separated by government. “Once Upon A Time” begins with a family and the unsafe area that they have grown up in. As the story grows, the descriptions add to how Apartheid begins and affects the safety and the family.
The family goes through the time period and the readers get to live and understand the suffrage through Gordimer’s words. Gordimer expresses her emotions through adding personal experiences from prior living in the area. Through situational irony and symbolism of prevention, Gordimer criticizes the government’s separation and inequality to the people. Gordimer shows the emotional impact that Apartheid has on South Africa through situational irony. Situational irony occurs when the opposite of what you expect happens.
An example is from “ The Boy Who Cried Wolf”. He keeps telling people something’s there and nothing ever is, but when something actually does happen, nobody comes to help him. In “Once Upon a Time” the setting is unsafe. The alarms that every house has go off for no reason so people have begin to ignore them. Nobody really sees what’s happening “Under cover of the electronic harpes discourse intruders sawed the iron bars and broke into homes, taking away hi-fi electronics, television sets, cassette players, cameras and radios, jewelry and clothing…”.
The robbers are using the unaware homeowners to their advantage. Irony is created through this from the security systems and Apartheid because the government is the symbol created from the security systems and Gordimer is criticizing it. The things that should be keeping them safe are helping the intruders. In the story, everyone wanted the best security systems, not only for the safety; but also because they wanted to look the best in the neighborhoods.
When the mom and dad and little boy took the pet dog for a walk around the neighborhood streets, they no longer paused to admire the show of roses or the perfect lawns; these were hidden behind an array of different varieties of security fences, walls and devices. ” Gordimer does this so that the readers must read into the text to understand the situational irony revealed. The characters never took the right steps to connect the problem until the end when it would be too late. Gordimer uses objective symbols in the text to reveal the deeper meaning of apartheid by bringing in the sacrifices government had to have this type of law.
In “Once Upon A Time” the wall is a huge symbol. Not only do the main characters move into a house with a wall built up around it, but it’s also in an highly protected neighborhood. The wall represents the separation between races, but specifically whites and other groups. The family talks about how a wall is a good idea and should even be higher. “You are right, said the wife, then the wall should be higher. And the wise old witch, the husband’s mother, paid for the extra bricks as her Christmas present to her son and his wife.
The increase in the wall height represents the increase in the government’s attempt to create more separation. Gordimer’s point is proven after the family adds wire coils to the fence. What the characters don’t seem to understand is the danger that is actually inside the fence. “… Screams while the bleeding mass of the little boy was hacking out of the security coil, with saws, wire cutters, choppers…” This is the apartheid. Nobody understood what was going on until people’s lives started getting taken and it was becoming a living hell.
The protection they thought would end up helping their family from the outside dangers would eventually come back and murder their own son. Gordimer is proving that the wall in fact, is the separation and apartheid. This symbol brings the point to perspective by the governments doing of separation which is Apartheid. Apartheid had a huge impact on South Africans and since Gordimer came from that region she has the prior knowledge and a view that helps bring out the horror of the time period. The character development also helps show Gordimer’s criticism toward apartheid. “Once Upon A Time” was a great read on Gordimer’s opinion.