Once Upon a Time

Once Upon a Time Metaphors and Similes

Simile: Windowpanes

As Gordimer, the first narrator, lies in bed listening to the strange noises in her house, she thinks about how vulnerable she is: her “windowpanes are thin as rime, could shatter like a wineglass.” In this simile, she takes something that is supposed to be a protective barrier and reveals just how flimsy it actually is. If a windowpane can shatter like the most delicate of glasses, then she is not at all safe within her home.

Simile: Hearbeats

As Gordimer listens in dread to the strange sounds in her home one night, her heart starts beating rapidly. Eventually, she realizes the noises are just the house settling, and "The misbeats of my heart tailed off like the last muffled flourishes on one of the wooden xylophones made by the Chopi and Tsonga migrant miners." Here she compares the sound of her heartbeats to the sounds made on a xylophone, but the simile is also extended by her mentioning that the "migrant miners" were the ones who made the instruments. Her existence is inextricably and uncomfortably linked to the "others" in the region.

Metaphor: Alarms

When all the neighborhood homes get loud alarm systems, the result is not exactly what the residents intended. The more the noise becomes consistent, the less the people heed its warning. Gordimer writes, "under the cover of the electronic harpies' discourse intruders sawed the iron bars and broke into homes." With this metaphor, she turns the alarms into harpies, which are monstrous creatures from Greek and Roman mythology: half-bird, half-women, they were depicted as evil, torturous, and ravenous. The alarms are compared to the harpies to suggest that they are loud and cruel and that bad things happen as a result of their presence.