Describe the significance of the family's characterization in "Once Upon a Time."

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Gordimer shows the family, specifically the parents, as loving and doting.  Yet, she also depicts them as fundamentally scared beings, incapable of understanding how to deal with the reality of what lies outside their cloistered world of wealth and privilege.  It is here where Gordimer's depiction has significance.  At some level, there has to be a level of discourse and emotional appropriation that connects to the outside world.  Gordimer's characterization of the family is one that seeks to avoid this reality in its entirety.  It is for this reason that the family, aided by the "witch" mother in- law, seeks to further insulate itself from the outside world.  There is little in way of seeking to understand this world, why there are the conditions that might perpetuate crime, or even how to become a productive part of this world.  Rather, the characterization is inward, embracing fear and seclusion as opposed to productive participation.  In this, the family is shown to be forces of negation, as opposed to creation, contributing the ending of the story when these forces choke the life out of the beloved child.  In this, the family's characterization is significant in showing that little constructive results from the attitudes such as those embraced by the parents.


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