How does the cat symbolize the theme of "Once Upon a Time"?  

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In “Once Upon a Time,” the cat symbolizes the story's themes of fear and control through its freedom of motion and lack of fear.

In the bedtime story the narrator tells herself, a husband and wife and their little boy live a comfortable life in the suburbs. But violence rages in other parts of their city, and the wife becomes terrified that it will reach them in their neighborhood. Their fear leads them to building security walls and gates around their home, but these never seem high enough or strong enough to keep out the burglars who are creeping into the neighborhood. Even the family cat can climb up over the walls, and if the cat can, so can the burglars.

Indeed, the cat moves about freely, going where it wants and when it wants. It has no fear of anything. It appreciates its home but leaves as it wills. No wall can hold it. The cat thus provides a sharp contrast to the terrified, hiding humans.

The humans have to learn the hard way that there is no perfect safety. They add more security features to their wall, metal coils and sharp pieces of metal. These, however, backfire when the little boy gets caught in them as he tries to enact a fairy tale and climb up the wall. He dies in the attempt, and his parents are horrified as they realize what their desire for safety has cost them.

At the very end of the story, the cat triggers the burglar alarm, symbolizing the arrival of the worst possible intruder: death.

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