What happens to the boy at the end of Once Upon A Time?

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durbanville eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Once Upon A Time by Nadine Gordimer is a tragic tale which serves as a warning to anyone who obsesses over something without rationally thinking it through or trying to solve the problem from within. Gordimer provides her warning in the form of a "bedtime story" complete with a "wise old witch" and a "Sleeping Beauty." It begins as a family tries desperately to protect itself from some unidentified source of danger. Each time the family upgrades its security system, it seems that it is not enough and more needs to be done because the family does not feel safe due to such things as rioting and burglaries and after a housemaid is tied up while robbers ransack a house, the family fits burglar bars to all its windows.   

After the family has all conceivable gadgets and deterrents to keep any undesirable influences away, it seems that it can rest easily within the confines of the walls of its house. The latest addition to the security features is " razor-bladed coils all round the walls of the house," and after his mother has read him a story, the little boy is inspired by the very same and very dangerous coils of razor-wire because they remind him of the thicket of thorns which the prince must struggle against to get to the beautiful Sleeping Beauty, in the story he mother has read to him. Without anyone realizing it, the boy climbs in to the tunnel of wires and is caught in "the first fixing of its razor-teeth." Despite everyone's best efforts, the boy is hurt badly, even perhaps fatally, and the reader is left to contemplate whether this situation could have and should have been avoided. So it does seem as if he has died as he is nothing more than "a bleeding mass."