Themes and message

Table of contents

Fear and prejudice

The short story “Once Upon a Time” by Nadine Gordimer explores the theme of fear and prejudice in the context of the apartheid system in South Africa. In the outer story, the theme of fear caused by prejudice is explored through the writer who believes that someone has entered her house at night and is going to kill her. The narrator’s fear increases, until paranoia makes her see herself as a victim.

In the inner story – the bedtime story the writer tells herself – the theme of fear and prejudice is associated with the white family’s racism. The white family lives in a suburb together with other white people, and they all develop a fear of black people, whom they consider violent. The white family does not focus on the real reasons behind the black South Africans’ violence and only think about their own safety. Their fear increases and, consequently, they take extreme and irrational measures against an enemy they are never confronted with. Finally, the white family’s fear and prejudice against black people backfires tragically, as their own child becomes a victim of the dangerous safety device installed on the house’s wall.

The theme of fear and prejudice also touches on how some black South Africans looked at other black South Africans. In the story, the housemai...

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