How is the use of the phrase, "Happily ever after," in Nadine Gordimer's short story, "Once upon a time," different from its application in traditional fairy tales? Include at least one detail from...

How is the use of the phrase, "Happily ever after," in Nadine Gordimer's short story, "Once upon a time," different from its application in traditional fairy tales? Include at least one detail from the text to support the answer.

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andrewnightingale | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

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Nadine Gordimer's short story differs from the usual fairy tale in that her story commences with the phrase, 'happily ever after', whereas in traditional fairy tales this is normally only used at the end of the story. The following quote from the text illustrates this incongruity:

In a house, in a suburb, in a city, there were a man and his wife who loved each other very much and were living happily ever after.

In a normal fairy tale, the story ordinarily commences with, 'Once upon a time,' which, to add further irony, is the title of Gordimer's story.

Gordimer deliberately employed this inversion, not only to pique the reader's interest or to engineer a dramatic introduction, but also to make readers aware of the fallacy of such a belief, just as the characters in our story do. The story warns of the the belief in an idealised existence and informs of the pragmatic realities of life. Nothing is certain or guaranteed. There is, in real terms, no 'happily ever after.'

This incongruity also illustrates that the lead characters, the man and his wife (and their family), lived a life of privilege guaranteed by the apartheid system in which they lived at the time. They were members of the white race who lived lives of comfort and security - privileges granted them by law. It was this protection that made them believe that their futures were guaranteed, in essence, 'happily ever after.'

Because of this, the privileged class felt entitled to enjoy just the best South Africa had to offer at the time. They developed not only a supercilious air, but were also condescending and patronising towards those who were less privileged, as are our characters in the story. When they felt that their security and safety was threatened, the family took to desperate measures, to ensure their further happiness. Unfortunately and ironically, they disregarded life's little iniquities and their hope turned to sorrow - their 'happily ever after' was ultimately destroyed.

 

 

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