Reflection on Once Upon a Time
There is a paradox to safety: the safer we make ourselves, the more we end up fearing. This ideal is explained with clarity in Nadine Gordimer’s short story Once Upon a Time. Her claim through this fiction is that fears, once undertaken, replace any bits of security that can be placed into one’s life. The dangers of everyday life are in and of themselves bad enough. They can be dealt with, however. Through utter enjoyment of life and disregard of danger it is possible to maintain security and happiness. Actions to the contrary can provide unexpected results.
We would expect to be more secure when we plan to counteract terror. In the story the man and his wife constantly “take heed” of various warnings. Each warning results in another action designed to protect the family. Of the bars on the windows advised by the trusted housemaid, the wife said, “Take heed of her advice,” and so bars were installed. The result was the deprecation of their view. When the wife began feeding the hungry outside of the house, the husband said of the housemaid’s advice to stop, “Take heed of her advice,” and so she stopped. The result was advanced fear of these new threats that she had been feeding until recently. The final advice was found on a neighbor’s wall. “Consult DRAGON’S TEETH The People for Total Security” the sign read. Install razor wire. Their action? “And they took heed of the advice.” The expected result was protected life. The unexpected result was unprotected death. It turned out that the walls the family built, and which we ourselves build socially, actually caused much more harm than good. Fear creeps in as the world is cut off.
This then is the paradox: the more we cut ourselves off from the world through safekeeping, the less we understand the world and the more we fear it. As with the introduction to Once Upon a Time, in which the author’s fear grew exponentially at what only turned out to be the earth shaking, we begin to live a life of paranoia and unjustified fear as we crawl safely inside of our social barricades.
Gordimer, Nadine. “Once Upon a Time.” Legacies: Fiction, Poetry, Drama, Nonfiction. 4th
ed. Eds. Schmidt, Jan, Lynn Crockett, and Carly Rees Bogarad. New York:
Wadsworth, 2008. 125-129. Print.