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Modern Fairy Tale

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Once upon a time: a modern fairy tale

"Once Upon a Time" by Nadine Gordimer establishes itself as a modern fairy tale. It tells the story of a happy family living in an affluent suburb of South Africa who moves emotionally from contentment to fear as they protect and isolate themselves from the rest of the population.

It is a reverse fairy tale in order to represent her views of apartheid South Africa. A fairy tale is a type of short story about fairies or other mythical or magical beings. Gordimer uses fairy tale elements such as the simple language, conflict between good and evil, and the use of a moral to create her own fairy tale.

Although the story has several obvious fairy tale elements, a "once upon a time" beginning, a happy family of good law-abiding people, who license their dog, insure against fire, flood and damage, and a wise old witch, the author employs several other fairy tale devices in the story. First, there is the use of simple, repetitive language like that in a fairy tale: "in a house, in a suburb, in a city there was a man and his wives who loved each other very much and were living happily ever after. They had a little boy and they loved him very much. They had a cat and a dog ..." Phrases such as "trusted housemaid", "you are right, said the wife" and "itinerant gardener" are repeated many times.

In addition to simple repetitive language, flowery, descriptive language used to embellish a story is employed in fairy tales. The language Nadine Gordimer uses in her story is reminiscent of children's stories and fairy tales and “once upon a time” establishes itself as a modern fairy tale.

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