What are some examples of foreshadowing in "Once Upon a Time"?

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rmhope eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Nadine Gordimer weaves many examples of foreshadowing into "Once Upon a Time." The frame story introduces the concept of fear. The idea of the subterranean mining tunnels that rock the narrator's house—dark, invisible, and cryptic—foreshadow the ethnic unrest that rocks the social fabric of the suburban community in the bedtime story. 

As the bedtime story begins, readers learn the family is "living happily ever after." Since such wording usually describes the end, not the beginning, of a story, readers know the happiness cannot last, or there would not be any story at all. The reference to the parents' fencing the swimming pool so the boy won't "fall in and drown" foreshadows the boy's death in his own yard. The early appearance of a "wise old witch" also portends some sort of evil curse or ill fortune. When the second paragraph of the bedtime story explains "it was not possible to insure the house. . . against riot damage," readers suspect such an event may occur. This foreshadowed event never happens; instead, it is the desire to "insure against. . . damage" that becomes the destructive force in the family's life.

The cat that keeps setting off the alarm acts as a bad omen as well. Cats and witches often portend evil, and in this case, the fact that the cat can scale the wall and get through the bars predicts that the home is not yet fully secure. The installation of the "Dragon's Teeth" fencing that makes their home look like a concentration camp, and the wife's first contradiction ("You're wrong") give a feeling of foreboding as the end of the story nears. Now the cat sleeps on the bed, yet the husband's calm assurance that "cats always look before they leap" makes readers anticipate that the cat is wiser than his human owners, and that they are leaping into danger that they haven't fully considered. 

The foreshadowing Gordimer uses helps readers stay engaged with the story as they anticipate a non-traditional ending to this "bedtime story."

mercilinekimondolo | Student

The  bedtime story, contained in Once Upon a Time by Nadine Gordimer reveals the inner conflict of a misguided family which believes it is doing the best it can to protect itself. The reader feels uneasy almost from the beginning as this seemingly perfect family as a sign which reads , you have been warned , and it is intended for any would be intruders foreshadowing what will follow.

There is also talk of riots, and even though the husband reassures his wife that, there was nothing to fear, the reader is not convinced. The fact that they need , police and soldiers and tear-gas and guns., suggests that the riots are more than the husband reveals, leading the reader to conclude that this story will not end well.

The chronological order is central to the story as it intensifies the increasing extent of this family's paranoia. The more precautions it takes, the more flaws it find in its security. The alarms systems seem to mock the efforts of all the residents of the suburb because intruders sawed the iron bars., while the alarms become almost musical, soothing even and ineffective. Furthermore, the more security measures they take, the more people there are outside their property and even though the rioters may have been contained, the loafers and tsotsis become more threatening as time progresses, again foreshadowing the tragic ending.

The cat itself represents a seemingly innocuous threat to the family. It is the cat which first sets off the alarm. It is the cat whose actions, when it effortlessly scales the wall, prompt the family to find another way to protect themselves, and it is the cat which remains on the property at the end because it would not even attempt the latest security enhancements, foreshadowing the fact that the danger lies inside.

The characters that are set in opposition to each other are the peoples outside the wall and the family within. The wife does not like to see people go hungry but the husband is more inclined to listen to the wise old witch.