Once Upon a Time Characters

The main characters in "Once Upon a Time" are the husband, the wife, the son, and Nadine Gordimer.

  • The Husband is very protective of his family. After taking his wife's initial suggestion about building a wall around the house, he begins implementing increasingly extreme security measures, culminating in the barbed wire that kills his son.
  • The Wife is a loving wife and mother who worries for her family's safety.
  • The Son is a young boy who dies while trying climb through the barbed wire installed by his parents.
  • Nadine Gordimer is the author and narrator of this metafictional story.


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Last Updated on May 15, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 603

The Husband

The husband is committed to the safety and happiness of his family. He is depicted as a caring husband and father and the ultimate provider. He takes perceived threats to heart, and he acts on what he sees as anything that would constitute a danger to the safety of his family. At the beginning of the story, he does not immediately embrace his wife’s initial suggestion of building the gates and wall around their home. Yet he does so “to please her—for he loved her very much.” After this suggestion, he initiates most of the security measures taken. When the final measure has been enacted, the husband is confident that his family will be protected, a confidence that is quickly shattered by his son's death.

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The Wife

The wife is portrayed as a loving mother and devoted wife. She is very concerned with the issue of security, and she is the first to suggest that the family begin the process of investing in enhanced measures to safeguard their home. After this initial suggestion, the wife is compliant with each subsequent measure enacted, reverting to a familiar refrain that it is essential to “take heed of advice.” Although the wife capitulates to any suggestion of security, she possesses a great deal of compassion for others. When the number of unemployed workers outside her home increases, she sends tea and bread for them, because “the wife could never see anyone go hungry.” Like her husband, she is caught painfully unaware of the inevitable consequence of all the security measures she has approved.

The Mother-in-Law

Described as a “wise old witch,” she appears only twice in the story. The first time, she warns the husband not to “take on anyone off the street.” This begins the family’s entry into the vortex of greater security measures. During her second appearance, she gives the family two fateful Christmas presents: (1) more stones to increase the size of the home's protective wall, and (2) the fairy tale book, which inspires the boy to climb the wall and enter the thicket of shards, leading to his death.

The Housemaid

The housemaid is a...

(The entire section contains 603 words.)

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Critical Essays