How is the structure of the story similar to a fairy tale?

The structure of "Once Upon a Time" is similar to a fairy tale in that it includes an exposition reminiscent of that of a fairy tale, common fairy-tale phrases such as "happily ever after," and stock characters like the "wise old witch."

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The short story "Once Upon a Time" uses the structure of a fairy tale with its setting, narration, tone, terms, and part of the sequence of events.

As she introduces her story, Nadine Gordimer calls it "a bedtime story," suggesting that it is a children's tale. Although she...

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does not use the phrase "Once upon a time" to begin the narration, it is used instead in the title to suggest to the reader that there will be a fairy tale. Then, the narrator employs a traditional pattern of fairy tales by starting the story with short parallel beginnings. In this story, Gordimer uses "They had." The setting is limited, too, as in a fairy tale. Also, the cadenced manner of narration is typical of a fairy tale.

Further examples of the elements of fairy tales are in "Once Upon a Time." After a few opening sentences, the narrator introduces the traditional fear of the outside world and the "witch" that are often part of fairy tales:

For when they began to live happily ever after, they were warned by that wise old witch, the husband's mother, not to take on anyone off the street.

Thus, as in fairy tales, there is a problem to be solved. The problem for the family in Gordimer's tale is about how to protect their home from outsiders whom they do not want to enter their neighborhood. However, there is a tragically ironic twist to this fairy tale, which certainly does not end with everyone living "happily ever after."

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How is the structure of this story similar to a fairy tale?

To begin, the title of the story— "Once Upon a Time"—is a clear nod to the fairytale genre, as many fairy tales begin with these exact words. After the introductory paragraphs, the story begins with a sort of exposition:

In a house, in a suburb, in a city, there were a man and his wife who loved each other very much and were living happily ever after.

The speaker goes on to say that the couple has a little boy whom they love "very much," pets that the little boy "love[s] very much," and lots of nice things, like a pool, a trailer, and a housemaid. This exposition provides background about the setting and characters of the story, and the reader is introduced to a family who is living happily ever after, another phrase well known to people who read fairy tales.

Readers can understand this to mean that this couple is trying to construct a fairy-tale life for themselves and especially for their young son. It is important to note that in the traditional fairy-tale format, the phrase "happily ever after" usually occurs at the end of the story. Here, however, it appears at the beginning, possibly indicating that something will occur that will disrupt the family's happy life.

In terms of characters, the husband's own mother is referred to as a "wise old witch." This description surely reminds audiences of witch characters in famous fairy tales. Though she helps the family in times of need, she also arguably brings evil upon the family by encouraging them to fortify their home and by presenting her grandson with a book of fairy tales, which eventually contributes to his gruesome accident.

There are continued references to how the family is "living happily ever after" as they continue to build their defenses higher and stronger. They read fairy tales to the little boy from the book his grandmother gave him, distorting his view of the world and allowing him to believe that he is essentially living in a fairy tale rather than a real world full of complexity and privilege and suffering.

In short, this story contains an exposition that resembles that of many fairy tales, phrases that remind audiences of the traditional fairy-tale structure, and a character that resembles the stock character of a witch. This fairy tale, however, does not end happily, but, rather, with the couple carrying the "bleeding mass of the little boy" back into their home amid the shrill screams of the servants and the alarm system.

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How is the structure of "Once Upon a Time" similar to that of a fairy tale?

You are referring to the narrative structure of the story. In this instance, one must look at the sequence of events to see whether it is similar to that of a fairy tale. The elements of such a structure are setting, plot, and theme. A narrative plot is further divided into the exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and the denouement or resolution.

In the exposition, the characters are introduced and the setting is provided. A normal fairy tale does not provide a specific time frame and begins with 'Once upon a time.' This is the first obvious similarity between our story and a fairy tale. Although the introduction is not used in the text of the story itself, it is clear in the title, which uses exactly the same terminology.

Secondly, the fairy tale provides insight into the characters' situation - i.e. where they live, their relationships and what they do. The story commences with the following words:

In a house, in a suburb, in a city, there were a man and his wife who loved each other very much. . .

There is, however, an immediate deviation from the usual format of a fairy tale when we read

. . .and were living happily ever after.

This particular sentiment is normally found at the very end of a fairy tale, after all issues have been resolved. The suggestion here is that the family initially believed that they were living in ideal circumstances which would ensure perpetual happiness. 

The story then resumes the normal pattern of a traditional fairy tale in the exposition, which enhances our understanding of the characters and their circumstances. We learn about where they live, how they live and their relationships with other characters. There is even a reference to the grandmother being a "wise old witch," which supports the idea of this being a fairy tale, given that references to fantasy and fantastical characters are common in such stories.

In the exposition, we are informed of the issues the family faces. This aspect also follows the model of a traditional fairy tale. The rising action is defined by the parents' increasing paranoia and their continued attempts at ensuring their safety and security. This leads us to the climax.

In an ironic twist, our story does not have a happy ending, as in a normal fairy tale. There is no falling action or resolution. The reader is shocked at the dramatic and tragic turn of events. The family is, in the end, left shattered; their "happily ever after" has become a nightmare.

Finally, each fairy story teaches a lesson and "Once Upon a Time" does not deviate in this regard. The lesson to be learnt is that one should be wary of the dangers inherent in irrational fear and paranoia, since responding to these unjustified sentiments could do more harm than good.

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How is the structure of "Once Upon a Time" similar to that of a fairy tale?

"Once Upon a Time" has several elements commonly found in modern fairy tales.

The insurance and security features purchased by the family can be seen as “magical” in a sense that they are believed to prevent crime.

Fear of the “colored” people outside the city is the villain.

Notice that the villain in "Once Upon a Time” is the characters’ perceived fear and not the individuals.

The parents and their son live like royalty. The husband’s mother is described as “a wise old witch.”

There are three distinct actions that lead to their child’s death at the end of the story that grow in severity, including purchasing insurance and joining a neighborhood watchdog group, limiting servant access which leads to fear of more unrest, and the installation of alarms and, eventually, the barbed wire that traps the child when he tries to climb the fence.

The ending of "Once Upon a Time," like most fairy tales, has a moral.

Nadine Gordimer's story cautions individuals to use reason and logic to address security concerns.

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