Once Upon a Time

Once Upon a Time Summary

As the title implies, Gordimer frames this clique of South African apartheid in an allusive form that brings to mind many conventions of fairy tales. The story starts out with a section akin to prefatory material that an author includes as background to how they came to write the fiction that is about to be read. While lying in bed one night, the narrator heard strange noises that stirred fear stoked by recently reported cases of criminal behavior in her neighborhood. Finally accepting that the noises are due to the house settling, she decides to tell herself a bedtime story in order to get to sleep.

The bedtime story is told in the conventional style of fairy tales, but it is really a suburban nightmare about South African whites so fearful of the perceived threat of blacks that they take increasingly extreme steps to increase security. The story concludes with the death of a young white boy who got trapped within the razor wire on the border wall while pretending to be Prince Charming.