The title of the short story “Once Upon a Time” by Nadine Gordimer is misleading, as it gives readers the impression that they are going to read a traditional fairy-tale. As the story progresses, readers find out that the title – like other fairy-tale elements in the story – is used ironically to explore the fear that white people in South Africa had of black people, and the dark consequences of fear and paranoia taken to extremes. 

Furthermore, the title is also misleading as it suggests the story is going to present events that end happily. In fact, the people in the story do not get to live “happily ever after”, as the couple’s little boy meets a tragic fate when trying to act out a scene from a fairy-tale.


The narrative is a story within a story. At the beginning, the text introduces the outer story, that of a writer who is asked to write stories for children, but who refuses.

A tension point is inserted into the narrative when the writer becomes scared of strange sounds she can hear at night in her house:

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. I felt the aper...

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