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Nadine Gordimer is a well-respected South African author. Her works caused consternation in South Africa during the Apartheid era and some of her books were banned. She became active in the banned political organisation, the African National Congress, and worked tirelessly for the upliftment of the oppressed. Once Upon A Time, a short story, is purposefully open-ended and non-specific so that it can reach and share its message with the greatest number of people. However, Gordimer''s political views are still evident in the subtle suggestions which she includes in this story.
The narrator, considered to be Gordimer herself, expresses her indignation when a colleague suggests, that because she is a writer, she "ought" to write a children's story because every writer "ought" to. In a country with very restrictive laws, this is offensive to her, as in her professional life, she does not want to be manipulated especially when the government already tries to impose its unjust system on every South African. She also reveals, that although she is sometimes afraid, she does not feel the need for burglar bars on her windows or a "gun under the pillow" which was (sadly) a popular South African accessory during Apartheid (and to a much lesser extent today). This reveals a political stance that is anti-government and which does not make sweeping assumptions about, for example, "people of another color."
As the narrator tells the "bedtime story," Gordimer's political views are again prominent as she reveals what people think they need to do to protect themselves. Their misguided efforts result in tragedy and so the story serves as a warning that conforming to the views of the South African government of the time, and going to extraordinary lengths to remove the apparent threat, is far more dangerous than allowing a just and fair society to emerge.
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