In the short story, Once upon a Time, by Nadine Gordimer, what does Gordimer express about South African society by giving details about the attitudes of the housemaid and the wife toward the...

In the short story, Once upon a Time, by Nadine Gordimer, what does Gordimer express about South African society by giving details about the attitudes of the housemaid and the wife toward the unemployed people?

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durbanville | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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Nadine Gordimer is a renowned South African writer and her short story Once Upon A Time traces events such as they may have been in some places in South Africa during the Apartheid years. The references to apartheid-practices such as demarcated living zones where only certain people are allowed to stay and only "trusted gardeners and housemaids" are allowed to work serve as a reminder of the injustice suffered. However, Gordimer does not restrict herself to South Africa, making the story relevant and universal, ensuring its appeal to the greatest number of people. 

The wife and the housemaid are afraid of "the people of another color" and both are anxious to take precautions against burglars.However, they differ in their treatment of beggars who come to the door. The wife does not like others to go hungry and wants to provide tea and bread but the maid suggests that her actions, and her readiness to open the door, are encouraging the "tsotsis" or hooligans. On reflection the wife agrees, thinking that the family should actually take the matter one step further by raising the garden wall. Both women are anxious to keep out the unemployed who only "spoilt" the beautiful suburb!

Rather than facing the problems the two women find ways to effectively ignore the real problem of unemployment. They shut themselves off from the real issues which is indicative of the South African public as they pretended that life was good as soon as they closed their electric gates and existed behind their high walls and burglar bars and alarm systems whereas they really lived in fear but took no proactive steps to ens the injustice.   

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