Nadine Gordimer’s Once upon a Time: the Effective Irony of Counter Fairy Tales
Nadine Gordimer’s short story Once upon a Time is a brilliant, poignant critique of South African Apartheid couched in deep symbolism. In order to enhance the effectiveness of her message, Gordimer uses tropes and motifs from a classic literary genre: fairy tales. For centuries, fairy tales have enthralled audiences, crossing religious, cultural, and geographical boundaries to spread worldwide. Because of their intrinsic symbolism and inherent ironies, fairy tales have long served as vessels for social and political commentary, often used by the ruling class to maintain the status quo. However, these same properties also create opportunities for the use of fairy tales as counter-cultural protest narratives, termed counter fairy tales. In Once upon a Time, Gordimer crafts a counter fairy tale in order to display the brutal absurdity of South African Apartheid in a relatable and deeply impactful fashion.