Style of language
The language used by Nadine Gordimer in the short story “Once Upon a Time” is formal in style, using both standard and complex vocabulary and grammar structures: “But I learned that I was to be neither threatened nor spared”. Words such as “Baas” or “tsostsis” point to the South African setting of the story.
The outer story has several interesting language features. First, there are several short sentences used one after the other, which suggest the writer’s fear over the noise: “A voice in the echo-chamber of the subconscious? A sound. A creaking of the kind made by the weight carried by one foot after another along a wooden floor. I listened.” Secondly, the use of exclamations reinforces the feeling of panic: “How finely tuned the sense are, just out of rest, sleep!”
Fairy-tale elements and irony
In the inner story, the feature that stands out is the use of ironical fairy-tale language and elements. A typical feature of fairy-tales is the presentation of things in threes and of a vague setting, like in the following example: “In a house, in a suburb, in a city”. The mention of the “wise old witch” – the husband’s mother – also hints at the witches from fairy-tales. However, her advice leads to negative consequences, as it instills fear in the couple and makes them discriminate against black South Africans. The witch being white is also ironic, as the white people in ...