I'm reading Once Upon a Time by Nadine Gordimer. I'm having trouble understanding the story, and am left with a few questions to answer after I read it. How does the boy respond to each of the...

I'm reading Once Upon a Time by Nadine Gordimer. I'm having trouble understanding the story, and am left with a few questions to answer after I read it. How does the boy respond to each of the security measures?

 

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durbanville eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The short story Once Upon A Time by Nadine Gordimer has deep symbolic meaning which is why it may be difficult to understand. If you find that you are forgetting sections of it, try making a mind map. Write the title in the center of your page or somewhere prominent and add your separate headings for characters, themes and plot for example. Then when you read the story again, you already have much of the information available to help you.

1. Characters: give a brief description of each (the mother is always scared, the father is hopeful that the security measures will make his family feel safe, the wise old witch is cunning and so on).

2. Themes: Fear of the unknown, safety and security, prejudice, despair, manipulation. 

3. Plot: The build up as one after another security feature is added; the climax as the ultimate security feature traps the boy and the resolution when the family carries the lifeless boy inside.

The boy's response to each of the security measures is to be expected as he has no concept of his parents' concerns. He is intrigued by the addition of the security features but has no understanding of their real purpose and is only interested in how they can be used for play. This is revealed when he plays "cops and robbers" with his friends, using a newly-installed device as a "walkie-talkie" when its purpose is to prevent anyone from entering the property uninvited.

Furthermore, when he walks the dog with his parents, he and the dog run on ahead while the parents compare fences. Finally, he envisions the razor wire as a kind of "thicket' and if a prince can manage to get through a thicket then the boy can pretend that he is the prince and work his way through the razor wire as a game. This seals his fate and his limp body, described as "a bleeding mass" is carried into the home when he underestimates the danger of razor- wire. 

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Once Upon a Time

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