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In Once Upon A Time by Nadine Gordimer, the family she describes is "living happily ever after." It has a dog and cat which the little boy loves and which contribute to the seemingly idyllic setting which nonetheless constantly falls short of the family's expectations. The wall which the family extends courtesy of the mother-in-law, by way of a payment as a Christmas present reveals the growing paranoia of this family and the cat represents those forces beyond the family's control which are innocuous and not intended to cause harm but which inadvertently do so. Therefore, the cat promotes the plot of the story. The question which arises is whether, if the cat can be witnessed "effortlessly arriving over the seven-foot wall, ... landing with swishing tail within the property" then how effective is the security which the family relies upon to keep it safe?
The "cat's comings and goings" can be seen on the white wall and suggest that no amount of security will ever be enough. It also makes the reader question what it is that this family is protecting itself from. On the face of it, it is the burglars and those "unemployed loiterers that had no innocent destination" but the cat infers something far more sinister and something which is already on the inside. The main theme is about the fear of the unknown and the cat is instrumental in showing that it is not the "people of another color" that are the problem. It is the lack of awareness as to the injustice and inequality that caused the problem in the first place and which potentially exists within this family and which they unintentionally enable. The fact that the cat "kept to the garden, never risking a try at breaching security" after the installation of the razor wire confirms the fact that the problem never was on the outside and that only a change of attitude inside the walls would be enough to save this family from the devastating outcome.
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