Nadine Gordimer's story "Once Upon a Time" discusses the bleak and complex realities of life while retaining elements of a fairy tale.Elaborate.

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think that one can look at the style of Gordimer's writing to see how fairy tale elements can be integrated into a very sad tale of modernist failure.  There is complexity revealed in the fairy tale notion of composition.  Even in the basic idea of Gordimer writing a fairy tale, she explores complexity and divergence in making the argument that the artist should never be told what to write or what to compose.  The complexity is that despite her assertions, she feels the need to write the fairy tale as a response to her own fears and panic.  Notice here that the fairy tale is motivated out of a desire to placate doubt and confusion.  The resultant tale is actually one that causes more doubt and fright, completely inverting the idea that the fairy tale is something that is meant to comfort.  Gordimer's style of her fairy tale creates the family as an almost mythically regal family with the father, mother, and child being king, queen, and prince. The protection of their home and their life is the kingdom.  The ending where the boy tries to climb over the barricade (inspired by a fairy tale) is one where the gallant prince tries to cross over challenging physical obstacles and barriers.  The subtleties that Gordimer brings out in her fairy tale style do not take away from the basic idea that the story is a modernist fable about a family trying to appropriate the world in accordance to its own subjectivity and actually causing more destruction and pain in the process.  The fact that such a complex theme is brought out through fairy tale form is only a testament to Gordimer's innovative style and her sheer brilliance in understanding intricate concepts within supposedly simple presentation.

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Once Upon a Time

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