In Once Upon A Time, was the boy safer because of the precautions that his family took to protect his family?

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durbanville eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Once Upon A Time by Nadine Gordimer, the boys' parents certainly go to extraordinary lengths to protect their family and to prolong the illusion that they are living "happily ever after." The parents notice the increasing incidents of break-ins in the area, they notice the "people of another color" who are not housemaids or gardeners as they unashamedly rip down the "YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED" plaques. They are aware of riots and even of "schoolchildren shot by police." They fear being burgled and the family's housemaid lives in fear of being "shut in a cupboard by thieves." She even persuades the wife that the "bread and tea" that she usually serves to the people outside only serves to encourage loitering and "tsotsis." The parents of the boy feel justified in taking precautions to ensure their safety. However, they have overlooked their own contribution to this situation. It is significant that the boy receives a "book of fairy tales" as a present as the family is desperate to protect him from what they think is the danger when the real danger, the ignorance and injustice, is responsible for the unsettling situation. It is unrealistic for this family to think that it can protect itself when it is part of the problem in the first place.

It becomes apparent by the end of the story that the boy is not safer after the precautions his parents take. In fact, their actions lead to the tragedy at the end as the boy becomes entangled in the razor wire. Ironically, this was installed for his ultimate protection; even the cat would not attempt to maneuver its way through it. The boy, however, continues to live his supposed "happily ever after" and is oblivious to the real intent of any of the family's security measures.