Discuss the significance of conflict in "Once Upon a Time."

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Conflict is vitally important in the Gordimer short story.  The most basic conflict that drives it is the fundamental conflict between individual and society.  The family in the short story are in conflict with the world around them.  Motivated and driven by fear of this entity, the family's desire for security set them in a conflict between themselves and the outside world.  Driven by insinuations that smack of both race and class concerns, the family move into a realm of almost a "slipper slope" in trying to protect themselves from the outside world.  The security system, the gate, the sign, the wall with jagged glass up top, and barbed wire are all physical representations of the conflict that the family has with the outside world.  There is fear in this conflict, fear of the unknown and fear of "the other."  This is where the conflict resides.  There is little in way of positive resolution, as Gordimer's story concludes that little good can happen when individuals are in conflict with the outside world due to fear and mistrust.  When the boy dies, ensnared by the barbed wire, with the alarms sounding as wails of suffering as a result, Gordimer makes it clear that individuals cannot expect good to result out of a conflict driven out of fear between themselves and their social settings.


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