How does the little boy serve as a symbol in the story "Once Upon a Time" by Nadine Gordimer?

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andrewnightingale | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

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The boy symbolizes innocence. He is completely unaware of the dangers from which his paranoid, or could we say pragmatic, parents and grandmother wish to protect him. He ironically and tragically becomes in the most horrific manner the victim of their worst nightmare. In their exaggerated attempts to protect their lives and property, they unwittingly create an environment in which the naïve youngster is put at risk. In acting out a fantasy, which has obviously become real to him, he enters the barbed wire, believing himself to be a brave prince, resulting in a most profoundly tragic outcome.

Next day he pretended to be the Prince who braves the terrible thicket of thorns to enter the palace and kiss the Sleeping Beauty back to life: he dragged a ladder to the wall, the shining coiled tunnel was just wide enough for his little body to creep in, and with the first fixing of its razor-teeth in his knees and hands and head he screamed and struggled deeper into its tangle.

In another sense, the boy also becomes a symbol for the victims who are the products of society's fears. Gordimer paints a picture of a society divided and ruled by prejudice. In this regard then, members of especially a certain privileged class, are ruled by fear, suspicion and mistrust and, in order to protect and maintain their position and possession, go to extreme lengths.

So from every window and door in the house where they were living happily ever after they now saw the trees and sky through bars

is one such example.

In this, they unknowingly create greater harm--as our story so brutally illustrates.

It is important to consider that in a society where class rule and privilege are imposed by law, creating unfair inequalities and oppression, there is bound to be discord. The actions of all the characters in this story are inadvertently the result of an oppressive system in which innocence is the most unfortunate victim.

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