Once Upon a Time

Once Upon a Time Imagery

The Bars on the House

Of the newly secure and barred home, Gordimer writes, “So from every window and door in the house where they were living happily ever after they now saw the trees and sky through bars.” The predominant features in the house are the bars that were designed to foil burglars’ entry. The bars are ugly and restrictive, taking away much that is beautiful and comforting in life in order to ineffectively protect the home from danger.

The Alarm

Gordimer writes, “The alarm was often answered it seemed—by other burglar alarms, in other houses, that had been triggered by pet cats or nibbling mice. The alarms called to one another across the gardens in shrills and bleats and wails that everyone soon became accustomed to, so that the din roused the inhabitants of the suburb no more than the croak of frogs and musical grating of cicadas' legs.” Seemingly, the alarm sound is all-pervading in that it is not one alarm but rather a chorus of them; hence, it becomes a familiar sound in the locality. As a matter of fact, it outperforms the ordinary sounds of the frogs and cicadas. As a result of the omnipresence, the alarm gives the property holders the notion that they are protected from burglars when the noise, in fact, actually makes them more susceptible to being robbed.

The Security Wall

The security walls are not, to put it frankly, alluring. Nadine Gordimer observes, “When the man and wife and little boy took the pet dog for its walk round the neighbourhood streets they no longer paused to admire this show of roses or that perfect lawn; these were hidden behind an array of different varieties of security fences, walls and devices.” The security walls block out the magnificence of the meadow and the roses. The undesirable representation of the security walls is consistent with Gordimer’s intent of undercutting the efficacy of such security walls.

The Undermined Ground

Gordimer realizes her creepy, creaking home is not being robbed but is simply shifting and settling. She thinks about how it is built on "undermined ground," with hollow rocks and sloping walls. Perhaps, she thinks, there are even men "interred there in the most profound of tombs." This is an important image because it represents white prosperity built on Black labor, oppression, and death: her home is built on a tomb, her social comfort built on the suffering of others.