Who is the forceful character in "Once Upon a Time"?

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rmhope eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Upon finishing reading the story for the first time, readers might have the feeling that the mother-in-law, described as "the wise old witch," is the most forceful character in the story. It was her original warning to the couple "not to take on anyone off the street" as a housemaid or gardener. This provides impetus for the couple to fear the "other." The mother-in-law doesn't come into play with many of the other decisions the family makes, though. She gives them bricks for Christmas to heighten the wall, but she is not overtly involved in their decision to install the coil.

Many of the decisions the couple makes seem to be mutually agreed upon, but the housemaid is often involved as well. The wife agrees with the housemaid that bars should be installed on the windows, so they do it. The husband agrees with the housemaid not to give food to the "loafers" when his wife wants to show them compassion. The couple strolls around the neighborhood observing their neighbors' walls and seem to agree on the "Dragon's Teeth" option. The trusted housemaid seems to be the first on the scene when the boy gets caught in the coil.

From these events, one can see the wife is the least forceful of the adult characters, giving in to those who advise her not to show compassion. She shudders at the sight of the coil on the neighbors' wall, which the husband takes as her preference for that style because of its effectiveness.

The housemaid may, in fact, be the most forceful character. Her reactions to the outsiders result in two actions from the couple: putting bars on the windows and not giving food to the loafers.

The husband is the second most forceful character. He has the electronically controlled gates installed, and he seeks to take action and calm his wife.

Despite the housemaid and the husband having more influence over specific actions in the story, the mother-in-law's overarching attitudes set the stage for the couple's behavior, and she may be the one whose opinions are most vociferous, which is why she is referred to as a witch.