Once Upon a Time's Unusual Use of Literary Elements to Depict Effects of Segregation

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Once Upon a Time’s unusual use of literary elements to depict effects of segregation

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Tragically Ever After

Usually in a fairytale, it’s expected to see a prince, a princess, and their devastating journey that always ends with true love and a happily ever after. Unfortunately for the characters in this fairytale, the story is reversed and the happily ever after seems to turn into tragically ever after. In Nadine Gordimer’s “Once Upon a Time”, several literary terms- such as symbolism, irony, and foreshadowing- are used to put an unusual twist to this backwards fairytale.

“Once Upon a Time” uses symbolism as a key element in twisting up a normal everyday fairy tale and giving it a disturbing sort of mood. The whole fairytale in itself is symbolic of the Apartheid, or segregation of races in South Africa. Towards the beginning of the story while the happy family’s setting is being described, it is said that on a “YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED” sign there is a man, and “it could not be said if he was black or white, and therefore proved the property owner was no racist,” (Gordimer 3). This sentence is a false assumption because the whole plot of this story is talking about how the family is trying to keep out everyone that is a potential “danger”, when really they are just trying to keep out the races that are not their own. They fear that other races aren’t equal and are threats to them, which symbolizes families in South Africa who are segregated by race because of the apartheid.

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In this short story, irony is a big part in making the ending seem very unexpected. Irony is thrown around left and right in “Once Upon a Time”, but the most important use of the literary term in this story is when the parents took precautions such as “a swimming pool which was fenced so that the little boy…would not drown,” and “they were insured against fire, flood damage, and theft, and subscribed to the local Neighbourhood Watch,” (Gordimer 2-3). These precautions are ironic because all of the parents efforts the keep themselves safe from the outsiders leads to their destruction and the little boy’s demise.

Another literary device used in this fairytale is foreshadowing. Through the first read, foreshadowing seems very insignificant, but after that, it shows a whole new side to this story. The first time foreshadowing is brought into “Once Upon a Time” is in the very beginning when the narrator states “I have no burglar bars, no gun under pillow, but I have the same fears as people who do take these precaution,” (Gordimer 1). This foreshadows the event of the family in the fairytale who take all of these precautions to ward off any threats, but are still faced with the fears that it won’t ever be enough. The fear that all of their precautions won’t be enough is also foreshadowed later on when “the boy’s pet cat effortlessly arriving over the seven-foot wall,” which proves that no matter how much protection they have, it never truly will be enough to save them.

In conclusion, symbolism, irony, and foreshadowing are very useful elements when it comes to giving an eerie and disturbing tone to an otherwise normal story. Fortunately for the reader, this makes “Once Upon a Time” a more thrilling story that hooks them on and reels them in all the way to the unexpected ending. Unfortunately for the characters, this fairytale ends with the little boy’s tragic and unexpected end.

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