Gordimer first builds tension with an opening, from the second paragraph on, that is reminiscent of a Gothic horror story: it is night, and the first-person narrator hears an unexplained creaking sound, as if someone is walking across her floorboards. The narrator also uses imagery that reinforces the sense of...
Gordimer first builds tension with an opening, from the second paragraph on, that is reminiscent of a Gothic horror story: it is night, and the first-person narrator hears an unexplained creaking sound, as if someone is walking across her floorboards. The narrator also uses imagery that reinforces the sense of danger, such as noting that the neighbors sometimes sleep with guns under their pillows and have barred their windows.
From there, the narrator stresses her vulnerability: her windows are as thin as "rime" and "could shatter like a wineglass." To add to the sense of unease and tension, we learn that a woman was murdered two blocks away.
We learn finally that this creaking sound is a false alarm, simply the result of the house being built on unstable ground, but by this time, we have been introduced to a fearful world.
We then move into a daytime world of anxiety, in which houses are closely guarded and the residents fear riots. Whites are highly fearful of blacks. The family in question adds bars to the windows, a high wall, and an alarm system to their home, but they still do not feel safe. Finally, they install the Dragon's Teeth wall, described thusly:
Placed the length of walls, it consisted of a continuous coil of stiff and shining metal serrated into jagged blades, so that there would be no way of climbing over it and no way through its tunnel without getting entangled in its fangs. There would be no way out, only a struggle getting bloodier and bloodier, a deeper and sharper hooking and tearing of flesh. The wife shuddered to look at it.
The sense of people needing more and more protection builds tension, as does the violent, painful imagery of the jagged blades hooking deeper and deeper into human flesh. With the barbed wire now in place, we wonder if that will finally be enough. It certainly seems the house has been made an armed fortress. What surprises us is that the very barbed wire that is supposed to keep the family safe ends up harming or killing the young son.