In Once Upon A Time by Nadine Gordimer, what is the mood at the beginning of the story? Why does Gordimer start the story this way? 

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durbanville eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Nadine Gordimer's short story, Once Upon A Time, has a cleverly arranged and non-standard structure which creates tension and even bewilderment right from the opening sentence. Gordimer has purposefully launched straight into what is bothering her. There is no introduction as such and so this makes the tone quite abrupt and certainly definitive as the narrator expresses her consternation at the audacity of her colleague who finds it necessary to suggest to her that she "ought" to write a children's story because it is what all respected writers (inferred not stated) are expected to do.  

This tone is soon followed by an urgency in the narrator's voice which reflects the sudden fear which grips her. She feels like "a victim already" with all her senses heightened by a perceived threat which she has yet to determine. However, she does not react immediately except to take her time in establishing whether her fears are justified. She admits that she is afraid sometimes, especially in light of violent crimes only "two blocks away" but she refuses to be bullied into being permanently afraid or sleeping with "a gun under the pillow." Her considered tone (despite her "arrhythmia") reflects her rational thought and her ability to assess a situation rather than react first and only then assess the situation. Gordimer starts the story in this way so that the reader can both understand that Gordimer does not conform in a way that the average (white) South African (of the time period) is expected to do and she does not support preconceived notions or expectations. The "bedtime story" warns of what can happen when a person does just that.