Once Upon a Time Summary & Study Guide

This Study Guide consists of approximately 25 pages of chapter summaries, quotes, character analysis, themes, and more - everything you need to sharpen your knowledge of Once Upon a Time.
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Once Upon a Time Summary & Study Guide Description

Once Upon a Time Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

This detailed literature summary also contains Quotes and a Free Quiz on Once Upon a Time by Nadine Gordimer.

The following version of this text was used to create this study guide: Gordimer, Nadine. Once Upon A Time, 1989. http://staff.hartdistrict.org/jrosena/gordimer.pdf

Once Upon A Time by Nadine Gordimer is a short story set in South Africa while the country still operated a system called apartheid which involved the forced segregation of black people and white people. The story is about a white man and his wife who are very fearful of crime and who go to extreme lengths to protect their home from criminals, without considering the broader implications of their actions.

The story begins from the perspective of an unnamed narrator who is a writer. The narrator recalls receiving a letter that suggested that all authors should write at least one story for children. Although initially reluctant to agree with this, the narrator changes their mind after being awoken by a noise in the night. The narrator fears that someone has broken into their house before realizing that the noise is being caused by a shift in the disused mines which lie beneath their home’s foundations. The narrator decides to tell themselves a bedtime story to help them get back to sleep.

The story is about a man, his wife, and their young son who live in a white suburb in South Africa. They have a maid and a gardener whom the man’s mother, known throughout as the wise old witch, advised them about hiring. There were riots happening in the nearby black suburbs which made the wife fearful about the violence coming to their area. To reassure her, the man had security gates fitted outside their home. The little boy enjoyed playing with the intercom on the security gates.

The maid heard a story about a housekeeper elsewhere in the suburb who was tied up by intruders who had broken into the house where she worked. The maid was frightened that this could happen to her and begged the man and his wife to install burglar bars in their house, which they did. Next, the family installed an alarm system, which was set off regularly by the cat trying to get into bed with the little boy at night.

Many unemployed black people began coming to the white suburb to look for work or to beg. The wife felt sorry for these people and wanted to offer them food and drink but she was discouraged from doing so by the man and the maid who claimed that the people did not deserve any help. The man began to bring the little boy’s tricycle in from the garden at night because, although it was now impossible to break into the house, it was still possible to climb over the wall into their garden.

The man and his wife decided to build a taller wall to prevent people climbing into their garden. The man’s mother, the wise old witch, paid for the extra bricks as their Christmas present. She gave the little boy a book of fairy tales. The wall was taller but not so tall as to stop the cat climbing over it.

After viewing the security measures of different houses in their neighborhood, the man and his wife decided to install a serrated metal security coil along the top of their garden wall so that anyone attempting to climb over the wall would be seriously injured. They worried that the cat would be hurt trying to climb over the wall but after it was installed the cat stopped trying to leave the garden.

One night, the wife read the little boy the story of Sleeping Beauty from the book of fairy tales given to him by the wise old witch. The next day, inspired by the prince in the story, the little boy put a ladder against the garden wall and tried to climb over. He became ensnared in the security coil and was seriously injured. The gardener freed the bloodied little boy from the coil and carried him back inside the house.

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This section contains 677 words
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