In "Once Upon a Time," what was the character motivation for the housemaid?

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ariel-mcgavock eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The housemaid is a complex character, for all that she occupies little space within the story. As a housemaid, it is inferred that she is from "outside the city, where people of another color were quartered," and yet she echoes the beliefs of her employers and sometimes encourages them. The first time she is mentioned, she advocates for more security measures:

The trusted housemaid of the man and wife and little boy was so upset by this misfortune befalling a friend left, as she herself often was, with responsibility for the possessions of the man and his wife and the little boy that she implored her employers to have burglar bars attached to the doors and windows of the house, and an alarm system installed.

Her loyalty is very much evident in her desire to protect her employers' belongings, and, perhaps encouraged to have their need for security reinforced by a woman from outside the suburb, the family complies with her request.

Later, when the wife cannot bear to see the people on the street go hungry, she sends out the maid. The maid, however, is less sympathetic than the wife. She calls the people outside loafers and tsotsis (hooligans) and encourages her to stop feeding them. She is as afraid of them as her employers are, perhaps more so: while they fear the loss of their possessions, she is terrified of being tied up and shut in a cupboard.

She is mentioned once more, at the end of the story, as she helps carry the corpse of the little boy into the house. She is "hysterical," in contrast to the parents, whose emotional states are not described. 

The housemaid is, like her employers, motivated largely by fear. She fears for her safety should intruders invade the house. She is very loyal to the family, as can be seen. But she must also be motivated by job security as people around her starve, unemployed. She straddles the divide between the suburb and the outside city, and it appears to be an uncomfortable place.