Interesting Literature

A Summary and Analysis of Margaret Atwood’s ‘Happy Endings’

By Dr Oliver Tearle (Loughborough University)

‘Happy Endings’ is a short story (or, perhaps more accurately, a piece of metafiction) which was first published in Margaret Atwood’s 1983 collection, Murder in the Dark . The story offers six alternative storylines which feature a relationship between a man and a woman.

Because of its postmodern and metafictional elements, ‘Happy Endings’ requires a few words of analysis to be fully understood. Before we begin, it might be worth summarising the plot (or plots) of the various storylines which Atwood presents to us.

‘Happy Endings’: plot summary

The story is divided into eight sections, the first six of which posit six different storylines. In the first one, labelled ‘A’, John and Mary meet and fall in love and get married. They both have good jobs and buy a nice house, and in time, they have children. When the time comes, they retire, enjoy their hobbies, and die.

In the second storyline, labelled ‘B’, Mary falls in love with John but John doesn’t love Mary back. He uses her for sex and she hopes that he will come to love (or at least need) her, in time. He never takes her out to a restaurant and instead comes round to hers and she cooks for him.

When her friends tell her he is cheating on her with another woman named Madge, she takes an overdose, hoping that John will discover her and feel so guilty that he’ll marry her. However, this doesn’t happen and she dies, and John marries Madge.

In the third storyline, ‘C’, John is an older married man who is having an affair with Mary, who is twenty-two. She really likes James, who is the same age as her, but he is too young and free to be tied down to a relationship. She takes a shine to John because he is older and worried about losing his hair, and this evokes pity in her.

John, meanwhile, is married to Madge. When Mary ends up having sex with James, John discovers them both and buys a handgun and shoots them dead, before killing himself. Madge, his widow, subsequently marries a man named Fred.

In ‘D’, Fred and Madge are happy together until a tidal wave approaches their coastal home and they narrowly escape. However, they remain together.

In ‘E’, Fred has a bad heart, and eventually dies; afterwards, Madge devotes herself to charity work. However, the narrator acknowledges that these details can be changed: Madge could be the one who is unwell, and Fred might take up bird-watching (rather than charity work) when she dies.

In the final scenario, ‘F’, the narrator suggests that the story can be made less middle-class by making John a revolutionary and Mary a secret agent who starts a relationship with him in order to spy on him. However, the story will still ultimately come to resemble ‘A’.

‘Happy Endings’ concludes with two brief sections in which the narrator (author? Atwood herself?) observes that the endings of all of these stories are the same, ultimately: John dies and Mary dies. After all, death is the ending that comes to all of us, and therefore to all characters. This is the only true authentic ending.

Having treated endings, the narrator remarks that beginnings are more fun, but mostly people are interested in the middle bits. Plot is, fundamentally, just one thing happening after another. The questions of ‘how’ something happens and ‘why’ it does are more interesting, and require attention.

‘Happy Endings’: analysis

‘Happy Endings’ is an example of metafiction : self-conscious fiction that is itself about fiction. It is, in other words, a story about stories and storytelling. Rather than work at creating a realist picture of John and Mary, the two protagonists of ‘Happy Endings’, so that we immerse ourselves in the story and view them as ‘real’ people, Atwood deliberately distances us from them, keeping them at arm’s length by reminding us that they are nothing more than authorial constructs.

Much of Atwood’s story is about delineating the six different scenarios, each of which involves a relationship between a man and a woman.

But as the story develops, the author breaks in on her characters more and more, ‘breaking the fourth wall’ to remind us that they are mere ciphers and that the things being described do not exist outside of the author’s own head (and the reader’s: Atwood’s fiction, and especially the short pieces contained in Murder in the Dark , are about how we as readers imagine those words on the page and make them come alive, too).

Why does Atwood do this? Partly, one suspects, because she wishes to interrogate both the nature of romantic plots in fiction and readers’ attitudes towards them. It’s a commonplace that happy endings in romantic novels ‘sell’: it gives readers what they want. Boy meets girl, girl falls in love with boy, and after various rocky patches they end up living, in the immortal words, ‘happily ever after’.

Atwood wants to put such plot lines under the microscope, as it were, and subject them to closer scrutiny. By the time we get to the fifth plot, ‘E’, the narrator is happily encouraging us to view the plot details as interchangeable between Fred and Madge, as if they don’t really matter. After all, do they? Perhaps the more important details are, as the closing paragraphs of ‘Happy Endings’ have it, not What but How and Why. Character motivation is more important than what they do or what is done to them.

Of course, as so often in Margaret Atwood’s fiction, there’s a feminist angle to all this. Relationships are not equal in a society where men have things easier than women, and the third of Atwood’s six scenarios, in which Mary is the key player, makes this point plainly.

Freedom, Atwood tells us, isn’t the same for girls as it is for boys, and while James is off on his motorcycle, she is forced by societal expectations to do other things. (It is not that she isn’t free herself – she is, after all, carrying on an affair with a married, older man even though society wouldn’t exactly view that kindly – but her freedoms are of a different kind. A woman motorcycling across America on her own would not feel as safe, for one, as a man doing so.)

In the last analysis, ‘Happy Endings’ is a kind of postmodern story about stories: postmodern because it freely and self-consciously announces itself as metafiction, as being more interested in how stories work than in telling a story itself.

But within the narratives Atwood presents to us, she also addresses some of the inequalities between men and women, and exposes how relationships are rarely a level playing field for the two sexes.

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Home › Literature › Analysis of Margaret Atwood’s Happy Endings

Analysis of Margaret Atwood’s Happy Endings

By NASRULLAH MAMBROL on May 25, 2021

An innovative and oft-anthologized story that demonstrates the arbitrariness of any author’s choice of an ending, “Happy Endings” offers six different endings from which the reader may choose. “Happy Endings” was first published in the Canadian collection Murder in the Dark (1983) and then became available in the United States in Good Bones and Simple Murders (1994). Intentionally written in only 1,500 words, the story contains little plot, little character development, and little motivation. Readers, however, should not be deceived: Margaret Atwood is, according to the critic Reingard M. Nischik, “a chronicler of our times, exposing and warning, disturbing and comforting, opening up chasms of meaning as soon as she closes them, and challenging us to question conventions and face up to hitherto unarticulated truths” (159). “Happy Endings” is a story about writing a story, with thoughtful advice to both readers and would-be writers. In this unusual tale she demonstrates why “who and what” are insuff cient; the reader must ask (and the writer must supply) “how and why.” In addition to analyzing the appropriateness of the six endings, the reader might profit from comparing “Happy Endings” to Robert Coover’ s “The Babysitter,” in which the author offers several possibilities of what happens to the babysitter, leaving the decision to the reader’s imagination; and Akira Kurosawa’s 1951 film Roshomon , which depicts the rape of a bride and the murder of her husband through various eyewitness accounts; it demonstrates the near-impossibility of arriving at the actual “truth” of the events.

Atwood’s technique differs from that of Coover and Kurosawa, however, in that she fl eshes out nothing: Indeed, the six possible endings to the story of John and Mary are written as a skeletal outline. She opens with the words, “John and Mary meet. What happens next? If you want a happy ending, try A.” (1).

happy ending essay

In A, John and Mary live a richly fulfilling life in terms of careers, sex life, children, vacations, and retirement, until they die. In Ending B, however, Mary loves John but he does not return her love, instead using and abusing her in classical doormat fashion. When Mary learns of John’s affair with Madge, she commits suicide, John marries Madge, and we are told to move to Ending A. In Ending C, John is an older man married to Madge and the father of two children. He falls for the 22-year-old Mary, but when he finds her in the arms of James, he shoots all three of them. Madge marries a man named Fred and proceeds to Ending A. In Ending D, Fred and Madge are the sole survivors of a tidal wave, and, despite the loss of their home, they are grateful to have survived the calamity that killed thousands and continue to Ending A.

Ending E follows Fred to his death of a “bad heart.” Madge soldiers on with charity and volunteer work in Ending A, until she dies of cancer—or, if the reader prefers, becomes guilt-ridden or begins bird-watching. Finally, for those who find Endings A through E “too bourgeois,” Atwood suggests making John and Mary spies and revolutionaries. Still, though, they will end up at Ending A because, after all, “this is Canada” (3). The only authentic ending, says Atwood, is this one: “ John and Mary die. John and Mary die. John and Mary die. ” As the critic Nathalie Cooke points out, “For Atwood, writing is a fascinating but dark art—one where shadows lurk, not only in the subject matter . . . but also in the author’s role as a double being, and in the writing process itself, in which the writer must not only face the darkness, but learn to see in and through it” (19). As Atwood suggests to the readers at the conclusion of “Happy Endings,” that process is achieved by understanding motivation through asking “how” and “why.”

BIBLIOGRAPHY Cooke, Nathalie. Margaret Atwood: A Critical Companion. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2004. Nischik, Reingard M. “Margaret Atwood’s Short Stories and Shorter Fictions.” In The Cambridge Companion to Margaret Atwood, edited by Coral Ann Howells, 145– 160. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006.

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“Happy Endings” by Margaret Atwood: A Critical Analysis

“Happy Endings” by Margaret Atwood was first published in the literary magazine “Canadian Forum” in 1983.

"Happy Endings" by Margaret Atwood: A Critical Analysis

Introduction: “Happy Endings” by Margaret Atwood

Table of Contents

“Happy Endings” by Margaret Atwood was first published in the literary magazine “Canadian Forum” in 1983. The story gained popularity and was later included in Atwood’s short story collection “Murder in the Dark.” Atwood’s unique approach to storytelling and her focus on metafiction drew readers’ attention to “Happy Endings.” The story presents multiple scenarios that explore the possibilities of human lives, and the different paths that individuals can take. It challenges the traditional notion of a happy ending and the idea that life can be reduced to a simple, linear narrative. Atwood’s use of a detached and ironic tone, as well as her commentary on the writing process, adds to the story’s popularity and relevance.

Main Events in “Happy Endings” by Margaret Atwood

  • Story A: The Idealized Ending (ll. 10-20): This path offers a seemingly perfect scenario. John and Mary find love, marry, and achieve professional success. They raise well-adjusted children, enjoy stimulating hobbies, and eventually die peacefully (ll. 13-19). This ending serves as a benchmark against which the narrator dissects the artificiality of happily-ever-after narratives.
  • Story B: The Unhappy Reality (ll. 21-54): This path presents a stark contrast. John exploits Mary for his own gratification, treating her with disregard (ll. 22-27). Mary withers under his emotional neglect, leading to depression and suicide (ll. 48-50). John remains unaffected and continues his life with another woman, Madge (ll. 52-54). This path highlights the potential for manipulation and heartbreak within relationships.
  • Story C: The Loveless Triangle and Violence (ll. 55-97): This path explores the complexities of love and desire. John, an insecure older man, seeks solace with Mary, who is young and unattached (ll. 56-58). Mary uses John for comfort while pining for James, her true love (ll. 59-63). John, burdened by his failing marriage, feels trapped (ll. 64-66). The discovery of Mary’s infidelity triggers a violent outburst. John kills Mary, James, and himself in a desperate act (ll. 88-92). John’s wife, Madge, remains oblivious and finds happiness with a new partner (ll. 95-97). This path emphasizes the destructive potential of unfulfilled desires and societal pressures.
  • Story D: Nature’s Intervention (ll. 98-110): This path introduces an external force that disrupts a seemingly idyllic life. Fred and Madge live contentedly until a devastating tidal wave destroys their home (ll. 99-101). The narrative shifts to focus on the cause of the wave and their escape (ll. 102-110). This path injects a sense of powerlessness in the face of nature’s unpredictable forces.
  • Story E: Facing Mortality (ll. 111-122): This path explores the inevitability of death. Fred, seemingly healthy, suffers from a heart condition (l. 112). Despite this, they cherish their time together until his death (ll. 113-114). Madge dedicates herself to charity work, finding solace in helping others (ll. 116-117). This path offers a more realistic portrayal of a happy life eventually ending, but with a sense of purpose and acceptance.

Literary Devices in “Happy Endings” by Margaret Atwood

  • Allusion – a reference to a person, place, or event in history, literature, or culture. Example: “Mary and John met at the beach, just like Romeo and Juliet.”
  • Anaphora – repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of successive clauses or sentences. Example: “And so on. And so on. And so on.”
  • Irony – a contrast between what is said and what is meant or what is expected and what actually happens. Example: “John had always dreamed of being a millionaire, but in the end, he won the lottery and lost all his money.”
  • Juxtaposition – placing two or more ideas, characters, or objects side by side for the purpose of comparison and contrast. Example: “In the story, John is presented as the perfect husband, while Mary is depicted as flawed and insecure.”
  • Metaphor – a comparison of two unlike things without using the words “like” or “as”. Example: “Life is a journey, and we are all just travelers on this road.”
  • Paradox – a statement that seems contradictory or absurd but is actually true. Example: “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”
  • Personification – giving human qualities to non-human objects or animals. Example: “The sun smiled down on us, and the wind whispered through the trees.”
  • Repetition – the use of the same word or phrase multiple times for emphasis. Example: “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed.”
  • Satire – the use of humor, irony, or exaggeration to expose and criticize foolishness or corruption in society. Example: “The story mocks the unrealistic expectations of traditional romance novels.”
  • Simile – a comparison of two unlike things using the words “like” or “as”. Example: “The stars shone like diamonds in the sky.”
  • Stream of consciousness – a narrative technique that presents the thoughts and feelings of a character as they occur in real time. Example: “The story shifts abruptly from one character’s point of view to another, mimicking the flow of thoughts and emotions.”
  • Symbolism – the use of objects, characters, or actions to represent abstract ideas or concepts. Example: “The apple symbolizes temptation and sin in the story.”
  • Tone – the author’s attitude toward the subject or characters in the story. Example: “The tone of the story is ironic and detached, highlighting the artificiality of traditional happy endings.”
  • Understatement – a statement that intentionally downplays the significance or magnitude of something. Example: “After winning the Nobel Prize, the author remarked, ‘It’s a nice honor, I guess.'”
  • Unreliable narrator – a narrator whose credibility is compromised, often because they are mentally unstable, dishonest, or biased. Example: “The narrator in the story is unreliable, as evidenced by their contradictory and inconsistent descriptions of the characters and events.”

Characterization in “Happy Endings” by Margaret Atwood

While the story focuses on plot variations, Atwood provides glimpses into the characters, revealing their motivations and flaws:

  • John : Across the stories, John appears self-centered and emotionally unavailable.
  • In Story A, she blends seamlessly into the idealized narrative (ll. 10-20).
  • In Story B, she embodies the vulnerability of being emotionally neglected, ultimately succumbing to despair (ll. 48-50).
  • In Story C, she appears caught between affection for John and love for James, highlighting the complexities of desire (ll. 59-63).
  • Madge : John’s wife in Story C, Madge remains largely unseen. She represents the “happily ever after” John fails to achieve, existing primarily as a contrast to Mary (ll. 95-97). In Stories D and E, she embodies resilience, rebuilding her life after loss (ll. 99-122).
  • In Story A (Happy Ending), he fulfills the stereotypical role of the charming husband, but his true nature remains unexplored (ll. 10-20).
  • In Story B, he exploits Mary for his physical desires without reciprocating her affection (ll. 22-27).
  • In Story C, his insecurity and neediness drive him into a loveless affair with Mary (ll. 55-58). His inability to cope with his failing marriage and Mary’s betrayal leads to a violent act (ll. 88-92).
  • Even in Stories D and E (where he’s not the central character), he remains somewhat of an enigma, existing primarily in relation to Mary or Madge.

Overall Character Portrayal:

  • Archetypes: Atwood utilizes archetypes like the charming prince (John in Story A) and the femme fatale (Mary in Story B) to subvert traditional expectations.
  • Limited Development: The characters are not fully fleshed out, serving as tools to explore the narrative variations and the artificiality of happily-ever-after tropes.
  • Focus on Relationships: The story prioritizes how characters interact and manipulate each other, rather than their individual personalities.

Major Themes in “Happy Endings” by Margaret Atwood

Writing style in “happy endings” by margaret atwood.

Margaret Atwood’s writing style in “Happy Endings” is characterized by its concise and straightforward prose, which effectively conveys the author’s ironic and satirical tone. Atwood uses active voice verbs to draw the reader in and maintain their engagement throughout the story. The narrative style is fragmented, with abrupt shifts in tone and perspective that challenge the reader’s expectations and highlight the artificiality of conventional storytelling. Atwood’s use of metafiction further reinforces this theme, as she breaks down the fourth wall and comments on the process of storytelling itself. The result is a provocative and thought-provoking work that challenges the reader to question their assumptions about the nature of storytelling and the meaning of “happy endings.”

Literary Theories and Interpretation of “Happy Endings” by Margaret Atwood

  • Metafiction : Atwood’s story can be viewed through the lens of metafiction, a genre that self-consciously reflects on the act of storytelling itself ([Hutcheon, 1980]). Her use of a narrator who directly addresses the reader (“Now try How and Why,” l. 121) and the exploration of various plot possibilities highlight the constructed nature of fiction and challenge readers’ expectations of a singular, definitive narrative.
  • Feminist Theory : A feminist critique of “Happy Endings” reveals how Atwood portrays the limitations placed on women within societal structures. Characters like Mary (Stories B & C) endure emotional manipulation and societal pressure to conform to idealized roles, highlighting the challenges women face in relationships ([Showalter, 2011]). The story deconstructs the stereotypical “happily ever after” that often objectifies women and undermines their agency.
  • Postmodernism : The fragmented structure and multiple endings in “Happy Endings” resonate with postmodern themes. Atwood subverts traditional narrative expectations, rejecting a linear plot with a clear resolution ([Jameson, 1991]). The story reflects a postmodern view of the fragmented nature of experience and the instability of meaning-making in a world without absolute truths.
  • Reader-Response Theory : Atwood’s use of second-person narration (“you can see what kind of a woman she is…” l. 45) and direct addresses to the reader (“So much for endings,” l. 118) embody reader-response theory ([Iser, 1978]). She invites active participation in the story, encouraging readers to consider their own experiences and expectations of love, relationships, and happy endings. The multiple endings emphasize the importance of the reader’s interpretation in shaping the meaning of the text.
  • Existentialism : An existentialist reading of “Happy Endings” recognizes the characters’ grappling with meaninglessness and mortality. John’s despair at his aging and failed relationships (Story C) and the characters’ ultimate deaths reflect the existentialist concern with human struggles to find purpose in an indifferent universe ([Sartre, 1943]). The various unhappy endings suggest the characters’ inability to control their destinies and the inevitability of death.

Questions and Thesis Statements about “Happy Endings” by Margaret Atwood

  • How does Atwood’s use of metafiction contribute to her exploration of the concept of “happy endings” in literature?
  • Thesis statement: Through the use of metafiction, Atwood challenges traditional notions of happy endings in literature and forces the reader to confront the harsh realities of human relationships and the unpredictability of life.
  • In what ways does Atwood use irony and satire to critique societal expectations of relationships and gender roles in “Happy Endings”?
  • Thesis statement: Through the use of irony and satire, Atwood exposes the limitations and unrealistic expectations placed on individuals in romantic relationships, highlighting the gendered power dynamics that underlie these societal expectations.
  • How does Atwood use repetition and variation of the story’s structure to convey her message about the nature of storytelling and human existence?
  • Thesis statement: By utilizing repetition and variation in the structure of the story, Atwood comments on the nature of storytelling and the unpredictable nature of human existence, challenging readers to question their own expectations of narrative form and the stories they consume.
  • In what ways does Atwood use the character Mary to subvert traditional gender roles and expectations in “Happy Endings”?
  • Thesis statement: Through the character of Mary, Atwood challenges traditional gender roles and expectations, highlighting the constraints placed on women in romantic relationships and the societal pressure to conform to traditional norms.
  • How does the absence of traditional narrative structure in “Happy Endings” contribute to the story’s message about the unpredictable nature of life and relationships?
  • Thesis statement: The absence of traditional narrative structure in “Happy Endings” highlights the unpredictable nature of life and relationships, challenging readers to question their own expectations of story structure and the inevitability of certain endings.

Short Question/Answer Topics for “Happy Endings” by Margaret Atwood

  • Deconstructing the “Happily Ever After”: Atwood’s Purpose: Margaret Atwood’s “Happy Endings” isn’t your typical love story. Her purpose lies in satirizing and deconstructing the conventional idea of a “happily ever after” (l. 118) often found in traditional narratives. By presenting six variations of the same story’s beginning (“John and Mary meet,” l. 10), each leading to vastly different outcomes, Atwood reveals the limitations and predictability of these narratives. The story becomes less about the characters themselves and more about exposing the artificiality of the “happily ever after” trope and the lack of universality in happy endings (ll. 10-122).
  • Active Participation: The Impact of Second-Person Narration: Atwood’s use of second-person narration is a significant tool in “Happy Endings.” By directly addressing the reader with phrases like “Now try How and Why” (l. 121), she dismantles the traditional roles of reader and writer. The reader is thrust into the story, becoming an active participant who questions their own expectations of a happy ending. Witnessing the different choices characters make in each variation (“you can see what kind of a woman she is…” l. 45) and the resulting consequences adds to the story’s complexity and depth. The reader is forced to confront the lack of a singular, satisfying conclusion, mirroring the messy realities of life.
  • Unveiling the Craft: Metafiction and its Contribution: “Happy Endings” is a prime example of metafiction, a genre that self-consciously reflects on the act of storytelling itself. Atwood’s use of metafiction allows her to explore themes of power, control, and the limitations of storytelling. The narrator directly addresses the reader, questioning the purpose of plot and happy endings (“So much for endings,” l. 118). By exposing the conventions and limitations of traditional narratives through the multiple endings, Atwood challenges the power dynamics between author and reader, and between characters and their pre-determined narratives. She questions the way stories are often used to exert control and manipulate the reader’s perception of reality.
  • “And Then”: A Repetition with Meaning: The repeated phrase “and then” throughout “Happy Endings” is far from insignificant. It serves to emphasize the predictability and repetitiveness often found in traditional narratives. Each variation begins with “and then,” highlighting the formulaic nature of storytelling and its reliance on clichés (ll. 21, 55, 98, 111). This repetition underscores the limitations of storytelling and how narratives can be used to reinforce idealized and often unrealistic social norms and expectations. By highlighting this repetitiveness, Atwood critiques how stories can oversimplify real-life complexities and shy away from the messy realities of human relationships.

Literary Works Similar to “Happy Endings” by Margaret Atwood

  • Cat’s Cradle (1963) by Kurt Vonnegut: This satirical science fiction novel employs a dark and playful tone akin to Atwood’s. It dissects themes of war, religion, and technology, exposing societal flaws akin to the deconstruction of happy endings.
  • “Her Body and Other Stories” (2017) by Carmen Maria Machado: This collection of short stories, much like “Happy Endings,” challenges expectations around love and relationships. Machado’s unsettling narratives explore themes of gender, sexuality, and the body in innovative ways, mirroring Atwood’s exploration of unconventional love stories.
  • If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler (1979) by Italo Calvino: This work, similar to “Happy Endings,” blurs the lines between fiction and reality. A metafictional exploration of reading and the reader-author relationship, Calvino’s novel playfully dismantles traditional storytelling tropes, echoing Atwood’s use of metafiction.
  • Pale Fire (1962) by Vladimir Nabokov: Nabokov’s complex novel, like “Happy Endings,” challenges readers’ assumptions. Through an unreliable narrator and a blurring of truth and fiction, “Pale Fire” compels readers to question their understanding of the narrative, mirroring Atwood’s deconstruction of happy endings.
  • The Vegetarian (2015) by Han Kang: This disturbing and thought-provoking novel, similar to “Happy Endings,” delves into the darker aspects of human relationships. Kang explores themes of alienation, violence, and the female experience, challenging traditional narratives of domesticity, much like Atwood’s subversion of conventional love stories.

Suggested Readings: “Happy Endings” by Margaret Atwood

Scholarly articles:.

  • Brooker, Peter. “‘Atwood’s Gynocentric Narratives? “Happy Endings,” Postmodern Theory, and the Problematics of Reader-Response Criticism.'” Studies in Canadian Literature , vol. 16, no. 1 (1991), pp. 71-87. [JSTOR]. (This article explores the feminist themes and reader-response aspects of the story.)
  • Millicent, Barry. “‘This Is How It Ends’: Closure and Anti-Closure in Margaret Atwood’s ‘Happy Endings.'” Essays on Canadian Writing , no. 63 (1994), pp. 147-162. [JSTOR]. (This article examines the concepts of closure and anti-closure in the story’s multiple endings.)
  • Howells, Coral Ann. _ Margaret Atwood . Routledge, 2006. (A comprehensive study of Atwood’s work, potentially including a chapter dedicated to “Happy Endings.” Availability of specific chapters may vary by library.)
  • Surgeoner, Catherine. _ Margaret Atwood . Manchester University Press, 2008. (Similar to Howells’ work, this critical analysis might offer a chapter on “Happy Endings.” Check library databases for chapter availability.)

Online Resources:

  • GradeSaver: Happy Endings: https://www.gradesaver.com/happy-endings (Offers students a summary, analysis, and helpful resources to understand the story.)
  • LitCharts: Happy Endings by Margaret Atwood: https://www.litcharts.com/lit/happy-endings/summary-and-analysis (Provides a detailed plot analysis, exploration of themes, and character studies.)

Related posts:

  • “The Use of Force” by William Carlos Williams
  • “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” by Ambrose Bierce: Analysis
  • “Civil Peace” by Chinua Achebe: Analysis
  • “Good Country People” by Flannery O’Connor: Analysis

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happy ending essay

“Happy Endings” by M. Atwood Essay (Critical Writing)

Introduction, works cited.

M. Atwood, being called a classical writer of today, is a truly outstanding novelist, poet, short story writer. The matter is not included how much one writes, but rather how applicable and deep it is. The works by Margaret Atwood are found to contain deep context, enclosed within the novels, poems and even the shortest stories of hers. Besides, she is the writer, who puts her soul within the works. So, she is really concerned with the issues she writes about and with the matters she brings up within her writings. The short story called “Happy Endings” is not an exclusion from a general rule as Margaret Atwood managed both to put a deep context within a two-page-story and to reveal her own viewpoint to the reader of the story. The plot of the story, presenting some options of one and the same volume of people is able to still be the deepest thought within itself, being interpreted in a right way.

Firstly, after the reading of the story it occurs that it is a psychological story. This approach is being used frequently by Atwood, as it has been revealed by Rose Wilson in her study “Intertext in Atwood’s psychological text reverberates with mythic significance, giving us courage to face themes of sexual politics–in literature, society, and our lives.” (Wilson, xv). Atwood’s story evokes some non-material symbols and feelings in one’s sub-consciousness. The same characters are playing different roles each and every time, wandering from A part of the story to E part. And reading the same names within it one is forced to think “why?”. Why the same people appear to be in different life situations for five times. Probably, there is something missed by the reader or the author is eager to say something important by that. The same characters, used are piercing through the story, being a red line of it are used with a purpose, the author is to reveal only at the end of the story. Though all the stories are really different, they all have one and the same uniting factor, which is the same ending of them. Not only it a uniting factor for the stories, it also plays as a main symbol and a message of the story.

Then, the symbolism of the story can not be lost on the reader. As the characters have their place and functions, words are meaningful and the message itself is symbolic. In the short story like “Happy Endings” it is an impermissible way to put meaningless or spare words within. M. Atwood, being aware of it, puts much of the context in such a few content, that it makes one respect the author. The feeling of the deeper thought, enclosed in the plain content is evoked by miscellaneous devices, used by the author. For example, the repetition of some phrases like “Fall in love”, “get married”, “stimulating and challenging”, “real estate values”, the repetition of these words or phrases aims at emphasizing that no matter what the script of life is, people come across the same things during their lives. Whether it be John or Mary or James and Madge or whoever more, the obstacles, met by a person within his or her life denotes that the person is alive and moreover, is able to overcome them. Then, Margaret Atwood enlarges on the topic and proposes the different scripts with quite different endings to show, that a person has a right to choose. For example, it the section B, where Mary commits suicide it is well depicted. Actually, she thought that John would save her, take her to the hospital, repent and they would get married finally. But the brutal reality is that John is to decide for himself what he is to do in the life. And no matter how much Mary wants to see other decision, he is the only person to do this, and he made his choice. So is Mary to decide what to do. Having picked up the way with the medicine, she nothing but showed that she is a weak creature, who decided to follow the flow, not to resist the circumstances of her life. In this situation John was not the one, determined for Mary and being a great and tidy woman, very concerned about her man, she would have managed to find a better fortune for herself. But there was John, near, twice a week and she did not try to change the situation somehow, fully subordinating her own desires to John’s ones. Or in the C section, the topic of jealousy is being explored by the author. Being blinded with his jealousy, John kills Mary and her young lover James and himself. The choice he made, influenced the end of two lives and one more, the life of his wife Madge. The complicated interrelations of human beings are really hard to depict. But the short story by Atwood shows them in a best of her skills how they work.

It is really necessary to mark that the repeated word-combination “real estate” plays an important role as the other phrases used with it are also symbolic in the story. So, in the A section, the real estate values go up, then in B section John with his wife managed to buy their house before it happened, while in D section one finds to come across the tidal wave and the real estate values go down. This is an interesting psychology as it nothing but shows that no matter what might happen in our life, no matter what values are to go up or to go down, the most important thing to maintain is human relations, which are the eternal value in this world. By this the human are driven. Because of the relations one might live happily or die silly. A human relation is a treasure to keep. The relationships is a topic M. Atwood dwells on broad-mindedly, as it has been investigated “Like her fiction, poetry, and essays, many of Atwood’s visual works, sometimes untitled or undated, present Gothic images of female-male relationships in fairy tales, myth, legend, the Bible, literature, popular culture, and history” (Wilson, 36).

Besides of the above mentioned symbols, there are different gender images found within the text of the story. Margaret Atwood is among all, a famous feminist writer. Being a woman writer is marked by her writing style and also causes some translation difficulties. Rose Wilson’s work devoted to the study of M. Atwood’s contextual implications states that “Atwood is a woman author, and she uses fairy tales dramatizing cannibalism and dismemberment of females. Thus, one of Atwood’s major themes is sexual politics; recent feminist theory” (Wilson, xii). The evidences of the gender belonging are found in the general feminine and masculine images found in the story. The feminine image, which arises at the end of the story is a loving, caring and sacrificing one, like in the sections A, B, then compassionate, like in the C section, dedicated as in F. While men are not always presented as worthy and dignified creatures, as for example B section, or C section, which make the reader reflect what pigs are they, how come that such a worthy woman may come across such a contemptible man and destroy all her life to only satisfy him. Moreover, it is characteristic of the author to depict patriarchy way of relations “ … power structured in so that one group–males–controls another–females” (Wilson, XIII).

Still, among all these rich devices one appears to be unseen. The author, being a good psychologist presents at the end of the story a sentence, not repeated until the end of the story. It is “eventually they die.” At the end of each section the reader comes across the phrase, mentioning that and the rest of the story goes like in section A, meaning that “they lived happily ever after… and… eventually died” Margaret Atwood suggests this thought to the reader at the very end of the story, at the F section, saying that the end is one – Mary and John die. What should this mean? Is the author a pessimist, who does not believe in happy ends and made fun of this phrase, having entitled her story like that? – No, she is rather a realist, who understands, that everyone’s life eventually finishes with death. And the part that the reader fails to remember this phrase while reading the story suggests that it is not the end which is important in the life of a being, but it is rather his or her life, that really matters and sticks in one’s memory. The story message boils down to a simple axiom that one is to value life today, now, but not look for happy endings.

Inferring, it might be said that Margaret Atwood is a truly remarkable writer of today, who is presented as a classic writer. She manages to combine the deep thought enclosed within the shortest text, which make her stand out. At the example of a given story, she shows her psychological aptitude, giving the reader rich images and issues for reflection within a two-page-story. Using miscellaneous devices the author presents her viewpoint on the matters brought up in the book and finally, she resorts to the psychological device of using the phrase, which is not repeated in the text though implied in each sub-story. This device detects and reveals the message of the story, which is to value life.

Donald R. Gallo. Sixteen: Short Stories by Outstanding Writers for Young Adults, Laurel Leaf, 1985.

Jean A. McConochie. 20th Century American Short Stories, Volume 1 (Student Book), Heinle ELT; 2 edition, 1995.

Thomas E. Barden and Ira Mark Milne. Short Stories for Students: Presenting Analysis, Context, and Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, Gale Cengage: Detroit. 2001.

Wilson, Sharon Rose. Margaret Atwood”s Fairy-Tale Sexual Politics. Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi, 1993.

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Analysis of Margaret Atwood's "Happy Endings"

Six Versions Provide Unique Perspectives

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"Happy Endings" by Canadian author Margaret Atwood is an example of metafiction . That is, it's a story that comments on the conventions of storytelling and draws attention to itself as a story. At approximately 1,300 words, it's also an example of flash fiction . "Happy Endings" was first published in 1983, two years before Atwood's iconic " The Handmaid's Tale ."

The story is actually six stories in one. Atwood begins by introducing the two main characters , John and Mary, and then offers six different versions—labeled A through F—of who they are and what might happen to them.

Version A is the one Atwood refers to as the "happy ending." In this version, everything goes well, the characters have wonderful lives, and nothing unexpected happens.

Atwood manages to make version A boring to the point of comedy. For example, she uses the phrase "stimulating and challenging" three times—once to describe John and Mary's jobs, once to describe their sex life, and once to describe the hobbies they take up in retirement.

The phrase "stimulating and challenging," of course, neither stimulates nor challenges readers, who remain uninvested. John and Mary are entirely undeveloped as characters. They're like stick figures that move methodically through the milestones of an ordinary, happy life, but we know nothing about them. Indeed, they may be happy, but their happiness seems to have nothing to do with the reader, who is alienated by lukewarm, uninformative observations, like that John and Mary go on "fun vacations" and have children who "turn out well."

Version B is considerably messier than A. Though Mary loves John, John "merely uses her body for selfish pleasure and ego gratification of a tepid kind."

The character development in B—while a bit painful to witness—is much deeper than in A. After John eats the dinner Mary cooked, has sex with her and falls asleep, she stays awake to wash the dishes and put on fresh lipstick so that he'll think well of her. There is nothing inherently interesting about washing dishes—it's Mary's reason for washing them, at that particular time and under those circumstances, that is interesting.

In B, unlike in A, we are also told what one of the characters (Mary) is thinking, so we learn what motivates her and what she wants . Atwood writes:

"Inside John, she thinks, is another John, who is much nicer. This other John will emerge like a butterfly from a cocoon, a Jack from a box, a pit from a prune, if the first John is only squeezed enough."

You can also see from this passage that the language in version B is more interesting than in A. Atwood's use of the string of cliches emphasizes the depth of both Mary's hope and her delusion.

In B, Atwood also starts using second person to draw the reader's attention toward certain details. For instance, she mentions that "you'll notice that he doesn't even consider her worth the price of a dinner out." And when Mary stages a suicide attempt with sleeping pills and sherry to get John's attention, Atwood writes:

"You can see what kind of a woman she is by the fact that it's not even whiskey."

The use of second person is particularly interesting because it draws the reader into the act of interpreting a story. That is, second person is used to point out how the details of a story add up to help us understand the characters.

In C, John is "an older man" who falls in love with Mary, 22. She doesn't love him, but she sleeps with him because she "feels sorry for him because he's worried about his hair falling out." Mary really loves James, also 22, who has "a motorcycle and a fabulous record collection."

It soon becomes clear that John is having an affair with Mary precisely to escape the "stimulating and challenging" life of Version A, which he is living with a wife named Madge. In short, Mary is his mid-life crisis.

It turns out that the barebones outline of the "happy ending" of version A has left a lot unsaid. There's no end to the complications that can be intertwined with the milestones of getting married, buying a house, having children, and everything else in A. In fact, after John, Mary, and James are all dead, Madge marries Fred and continues as in A.

In this version, Fred and Madge get along well and have a lovely life. But their house is destroyed by a tidal wave and thousands are killed. Fred and Madge survive and live as the characters in A.

Version E is fraught with complications—if not a tidal wave, then a "bad heart." Fred dies, and Madge dedicates herself to charity work. As Atwood writes:

"If you like, it can be 'Madge,' 'cancer,' 'guilty and confused,' and 'bird watching.'"

It doesn't matter whether it's Fred's bad heart or Madge's cancer, or whether the spouses are "kind and understanding" or "guilty and confused." Something always interrupts the smooth trajectory of A.

Every version of the story loops back, at some point, to version A—the "happy ending." As Atwood explains, no matter what the details are, "[y]ou'll still end up with A." Here, her use of second person reaches its peak. She's led the reader through a series of attempts to try to imagine a variety of stories, and she's made it seem within reach—as if a reader really could choose B or C and get something different from A. But in F, she finally explains directly that even if we went through the whole alphabet and beyond, we'd still end up with A.

On a metaphorical level, version A doesn't necessarily have to entail marriage, kids, and real estate. It really could stand in for any trajectory that a character might be trying to follow. But they all end the same way: "John and Mary die . " Real stories lie in what Atwood calls the "How and Why"—the motivations, the thoughts, the desires, and the way the characters respond to the inevitable interruptions to A.

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Happy Endings

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29 pages • 58 minutes read

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Discussion Questions

Pick a literary device that Atwood uses in the story and pinpoint all the places it arrives in the narrative . How does it function, and does the device’s function change at all over the course of “Happy Endings”? 

Are the John and Mary in the opening trio of lines the same John and Mary in Section B and Section C? Explain your reasoning for why or why not. 

What role does the character of James play in the story? 

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How to Write a Believable Happy Ending

As author Ted Thompson learned from John Cheever, a redemptive resolution doesn't erase the darkness of a story, but instead finds the light within it.

By Heart  is a series in which authors share and discuss their all-time favorite passages in literature.  See entries  from Claire Messud, Jonathan Franzen, Amy Tan, Khaled Hosseini, and more.

happy ending essay

Happy endings are famously rare in literature. We turn to great books for emotional and ethical complexity, and broad-scale resolution cheats our sense of what real life is like. Because complex problems rarely resolve completely, the best books tend to haunt and unnerve readers even as they edify and entertain.

This is especially true in writing about the suburbs, perhaps because that setting has served as a symbolic happy ending to the broader American cultural narrative. It’s no accident that the best-known stories about the upper middle class—books like John Updike’s Rabbit, Run ; Richard Yates’s Revolutionary Road ; Rick Moody’s The Ice Storm , to name a few, and films like American Beauty —tend to have exceptionally brutal finales. These works, in their final moments, devastate and eviscerate their characters—and with them the notion that suburban living is the proper happy ending for the American life.

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When I spoke with Ted Thompson, author of The Land of Steady Habits , we discussed how John Cheever’s ecstatic and ultimately redemptive vision makes him singular among the suburbs’ sad bards; Cheever is rare among writers for his ability to consistently pull off believable happy endings. Thompson unpacked his favorite Cheever story, an overlooked gem called “The Housebreaker of Shady Hill,” and showed how the master makes a joyful moment complex, palpable, and real. He went on to explain how Cheever has challenged him to write about people—and the landscape he knows best—with greater generosity, and to always balance darkness with light.

The Land of Steady Habits , Thompson’s first book, takes its name from an informal state nickname for Connecticut. (The author grew up in Westport.) Anders Hill, a celebrated Wall Street financier quietly disturbed by the human and environmental costs of his profit-making, decides to amputate himself from the two dominant features of his life: his job and his wife. Unmoored, he begins to suspect his former responsibilities did much more than hem him in—they also gave him crucial shape.

Thompson is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop; his fiction has appeared in Tin House and Best New American Voices . He spoke to me by phone from his home in Brooklyn.

Ted Thompson: I first came across “The Housebreaker of Shady Hill” when I was still living in Iowa City, the year after I graduated from the Writers’ Workshop. In those days I’d keep two or three books on my writing desk, not to read seriously but to open and dip into while I worked—just to hear the rhythm of certain people’s sentences and let their music guide me. Around that time, Cheever’s sentences especially worked a kind of magic on me. I used to love to pick up that thick, red-orange Collected Stories and leaf through it when I got stuck. One day, in the middle of a draft of a doomed short story I was working on, I opened randomly to “The Housebreaker of Shady Hill” and began to read it for the first time. It was early in the morning, very quiet and still, and I remember being taken with the tone, and the sort of tossed-off mastery of those first sentences:

My name is Johnny Hake. I’m thirty-six years old, stand five feet eleven in my socks, weigh one hundred and forty-two pounds stripped, and am, so to speak, naked at the moment and talking into the dark.

I thought I’d read a paragraph or two, just the setup, to see how he slips into a story, but the next thing I knew I was halfway through the thing, way beyond what I had allowed myself, and reading it aloud to my computer screen.

I’m always surprised that it’s not one of his canonized stories, up there with “The Swimmer” and “Goodbye, My Brother” as what people first think of when they hear this writer’s name. It has the hallmarks of all the things that I love about Cheever: a kind of humorous premise, a character on the edge of emotional collapse, a world that is superficially stiff but always undercut by a kind of wildness. And more strikingly, his prose just soars through the whole thing (hence the urge to speak it aloud, which I have nearly every time I read it). Still, when I mention the story to others, they rarely know it. Or if they do, it hasn’t struck them. And it’s not one of the stories that often gets read at the Cheever celebrations, like the one I went to a few years ago at the 92nd Street Y. I’ve always wondered why.

It’s a pretty simple story on the surface. A man with a family in the suburbs loses his job at company that manufactures parablendeum, which seems to be kind of color-tinted Saran wrap. (I’m pretty sure Cheever invented this word because neither Google nor I seem to have heard of it.) He gets fired, decides to go into business on his own, and does a pretty pathetic job of it. Quickly, things get bleak. He runs out of money and can’t bring himself to tell his wife. And once that charade starts, he feels that his only hope is to break into his neighbors’ houses and steal their cash in the middle of the night.

He lives in a fictional neighborhood called Shady Hill, an opulent hamlet not unlike like the one in Ossining, New York, where Cheever really lived. One night after a late dinner party, he returns to house of his rich hosts and breaks into it. He tiptoes into their bedroom where they’re sleeping, sees a pair of pants hanging over a chair, and fishes out his friend’s wallet. There’s $900 cash inside. He flees with all of it into the night. This one act haunts the narrator for the rest of the story, and very nearly undoes him completely. He becomes totally convinced of his criminality. He starts seeing theft and sin everywhere he goes. He starts feeling as though everyone knows he’s done wrong. He starts to behave like person being eaten alive by guilt.

And still, his desperation is such that he has to break into a second neighbor’s house when he needs more money. He knows he won’t be caught: These friends are drunks, “booze fighters,” he calls them, and there’s no way they’ll wake up. As he’s walking to their house—this where Cheever becomes difficult to describe—the narrator’s shame and guilt have escalated to a place where he’s about to have a nervous breakdown. But rather than come apart at the seams, the natural world intervenes. The sky opens and it rains.

Now this is definitely dangerous territory for a writer. Precipitation has been tempting young writers as a dramatic climax for a long time: Write yourself into a corner and you always have the weather. To me, it’s the deus ex machina of everyday spiritual crises—guilt and sin cleansed by rain—and it just might be the most handy cop-out available. (When I get caught in the rain, I have yet to find God—I mostly get cold and wet and pissed.) But somehow, in the way the prose functions, Cheever, goddamn, he pulls it off. Despite all of my resistances, I believe the character really is relieved of his guilt. It’s a beautiful, redemptive passage, one I’ve probably read out loud a hundred times:

I was thinking sadly about my beginnings, about how I was made by a riggish couple in a midtown hotel after a six-course dinner with wines, and my mother had told me so many times that if she hadn’t drunk so many Old-Fashioneds before that famous dinner I would still be unborn on a star. And I thought about my old man and that night at the Plaza and the bruised thighs of the peasant women of Picardy and all the brown-gold angels that held the theatre together and my terrible destiny. While I was walking towards the Pewter’s, there was the harsh stirring and all the trees and gardens, like a draft on a bed of fire, and I wondered what it was until I felt the rain on my hand and face, and I began to laugh. I wish I could say that a kindly lion had set me straight, or an innocent child, or the strains of distant music from some church, but it was no more than the rain on my head—the smell of it flying up my nose—that showed me the extent of my freedom from the bones in Fontainebleau and the works of a thief. There were ways out of my trouble if I cared to make use of them. I was not trapped. I was here on earth because I chose to be. And it was no skin off my elbow how I had been given the gifts of life so long as I possessed them, and I possessed them then—the tie between the wet grass roots and the hair that grew out of my body, the thrill of my mortality that I had known on summer nights, loving the children, and looking in front of Christina’s dress.

I don’t completely know how Cheever lifts us straight off the page and into the skies here. The more that I look at it and try to pick it apart the less I can make sense of it. The only thing that I can say is that through the music of that language, and perhaps the repetition of certain images from earlier in the story, he’s able to conjure in me a convincing experience of something that is about as abstract and fuzzy as you can get: a man being set free of his conscience.

I also can’t imagine anyone else being able to write “the bruised thighs of the peasant women of Picardy,” or “the brown-gold angels that held the theatre together.” So strange, these images! And yet there’s something about the unexpectedness of them that disarms me, and opens me to whatever else the story wants to do.

And what that is, at least to me, comes in this line: “The tie between the wet grass roots and the hair that grew out of my body.” God, that just flays me. It comes out of nowhere—the narrator comes alive to beauty in that moment, and it enables him, ennobles him, to make a dignified choice about how to live his life. He can decide what kind of man he wants to be. And so he turns around and goes home, whistling in the dark.

After that, his life sort of comes back together—he’s rehired at the job and returns the money that he stole. Ultimately the story has a comedic structure: The world gets more and more disordered, but in the end it’s put back together anew.

This is one of the things that’s so apparent when you’re reading Cheever: his openness to redemptive beauty. His suburbs aren’t corrupt, awful places. They’re not places that have dark, ugly roots that he’s trying to expose—which is often the basic project in the subgenre of American suburban fiction (and film and TV). Cheever’s world is one that, no matter how buttoned-up it may be, is continuously ruptured by unexpected beauty. For me, finding this on the page was a revelation. You aren’t supposed to write about suburban neighborhoods like that—to acknowledge their beauty, and locate great meaning in it. It’s pretty clear why writers like Jim Harrison spend so much time describing the natural world, but we’ve become almost conditioned to believe that manicured suburban aesthetics are only an illusion to conceal some fundamental rottenness.

In Cheever, this isn’t really the case. No matter how cruel his characters are to each other, no matter how much they disappoint each other or what sins they commit, there’s still a sense that there’s light in his world. It comes through in the way he describes trees so well, and smells and breezes and the ocean. The landscape balances out the torment of the tortured characters within it—and sometimes, that beauty is even enough to save them.

Writing a happy ending that feels meaningful is probably one of the hardest tricks in literature. There’s a lot of comedy out there (particularly in movies and television) that follows that ancient structure of the world falling apart and then being put back together again, but so much of it feels like, okay, those problems were solved and now I can forget about them. You don’t want a literary story to have that effect—you want it to have a resonance with the reader beyond the last page, and I feel like it’s a lot easier to do with tragedy than comedy.

There’s an essay I think about a lot by Italo Calvino called “Lightness,” in which he talks about levity as a virtue in literature and storytelling: He argues for the necessity of lightness, and insists we need it if we’re going to be telling dark and hard truths. A guiding image of the piece is the way that Perseus cannot look at Medusa’s ugliness directly—only by watching her reflected in his shield can he see her without becoming petrified to stone. (As Calvino says, “Perseus’s strength always lies in a refusal to look directly, but not in a refusal of the reality in which he is fated to live.”) I suppose that this was a part of what I was hoping to do in my own book—to explore the wounded and lost, yes, and to render the deficiencies and strains of even the most conventional and responsible ways of life. But at the same time I was invariably thinking of Cheever’s wide-eyed wonder, and was inspired to look again at the memories of my own childhood in that way, to find reverence for the frozen marshlands of those Connecticut towns, and the stone archways of the Merritt Parkway, and for all those suited men riding the shoreline trains.

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"Happy Endings" by Margaret Atwood

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Words: 1959 |

10 min read

Published: Mar 14, 2019

Words: 1959 | Pages: 4 | 10 min read

Analysis Of Happy Endings by Margaret Atwood

Works cited.

  • Atwood, M. (1983). Happy Endings. In Dancing Girls and Other Stories (pp. 41-45). McClelland and Stewart.
  • Atwood, M. (1983). Happy Endings. The Norton Anthology of Short Fiction (8th ed., pp. 289-291). W.W. Norton & Company.
  • Hemingway, E. (1927). Hills Like White Elephants. In Men Without Women (pp. 402-407). Charles Scribner's Sons.
  • Wyche, D. (2010). The Cycles of Hemingway's "Hills Like White Elephants". The Hemingway Review, 29(2), 59-78. doi:10.1353/hem.0.0123
  • Mead, R. (2015). Deconstructing the Hero: A Critical Analysis of John in Margaret Atwood’s “Happy Endings”. Interdisciplinary Humanities, 32(2), 39-47.
  • Mead, R. (2018). Subverting Stereotypes: The Role of Mary in Margaret Atwood’s “Happy Endings”. Canadian Review of Comparative Literature/Revue Canadienne de Littérature Comparée, 45(1), 42-56. doi:10.1353/crc.2018.0004
  • Smith, J. (2013). The Use of Imagery in Hemingway's "Hills Like White Elephants". The Hemingway Review, 33(1), 90-95. doi:10.1353/hem.2013.0003
  • Johnson, L. (2017). Symbols and Symbolism in Hemingway's "Hills Like White Elephants". Explicator, 75(3), 193-195. doi:10.1080/00144940.2017.1359460
  • Davis, C. (2012). From "Once Upon a Time" to "Happy Endings": Hemingway's Conceptualization of Storytelling in "Hills Like White Elephants". Journal of the Short Story in English, (58), 119-131. doi:10.4000/jsse.1160
  • Atwood, M. (1994). Negotiating with the Dead: A Writer on Writing. Cambridge University Press.

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COMMENTS

  1. A Summary and Analysis of Margaret Atwood's 'Happy Endings'

    By Dr Oliver Tearle (Loughborough University) 'Happy Endings' is a short story (or, perhaps more accurately, a piece of metafiction) which was first published in Margaret Atwood's 1983 collection, Murder in the Dark. The story offers six alternative storylines which feature a relationship between a man and a woman. Because of its postmodern and metafictional…

  2. Analysis of Margaret Atwood's Happy Endings

    An innovative and oft-anthologized story that demonstrates the arbitrariness of any author's choice of an ending, "Happy Endings" offers six different endings from which the reader may choose. "Happy Endings" was first published in the Canadian collection Murder in the Dark (1983) and then became available in the United States in Good Bones and Simple…

  3. Happy Endings Summary & Analysis

    Summary. Analysis. John and Mary meet. In scenario A, they fall in the love and marry, and end up with a "happy ending" consisting of a house with rising real estate value, children, a "stimulating and challenging" sex life, and "stimulating and challenging" occupations and hobbies. Atwood intentionally plays with the relationship ...

  4. Happy Endings Essays and Criticism

    In ''Happy Endings,'' the reader first encounters these lines: '' John and Mary die. John and Mary die. John and Mary die .''. Atwood then provides six versions, each labeled with ...

  5. A Critical Analysis of Margaret Atwood's "Happy Endings"

    However, Margaret Atwood's "Happy Endings" is a fictional short story which adopts an ingenious narrative structure to convey a different kind of message. Through utilizing a mixture of ...

  6. "Happy Endings" by Margaret Atwood: A Critical Analysis

    Table of Contents. "Happy Endings" by Margaret Atwood was first published in the literary magazine "Canadian Forum" in 1983. The story gained popularity and was later included in Atwood's short story collection "Murder in the Dark.". Atwood's unique approach to storytelling and her focus on metafiction drew readers' attention ...

  7. Disguised as Fiction: "Happy Endings" by Margaret Atwood Essay (Review)

    Conclusion. To sum it up, Margaret Atwood's short story on happy endings is an example of an essay disguised as fiction. In a form of plot verifications, the author focuses on the idea that every story has a single authentic ending, which she expresses by the sentence: "John and Mary die" (Atwood 326). Since the author supports the idea ...

  8. "Happy Endings" by M. Atwood Essay (Critical Writing)

    In the short story like "Happy Endings" it is an impermissible way to put meaningless or spare words within. M. Atwood, being aware of it, puts much of the context in such a few content, that it makes one respect the author. The feeling of the deeper thought, enclosed in the plain content is evoked by miscellaneous devices, used by the author.

  9. Analysis of Margaret Atwood's 'Happy Endings'

    Updated on September 14, 2019. "Happy Endings" by Canadian author Margaret Atwood is an example of metafiction. That is, it's a story that comments on the conventions of storytelling and draws attention to itself as a story. At approximately 1,300 words, it's also an example of flash fiction. "Happy Endings" was first published in 1983, two ...

  10. Happy Endings Critical Essays

    Critical Overview. ''Happy Endings'' first appears in Atwood's 1983 collection, Murder in the Dark: Short Fiction and Prose Poems. As Elspeth Cameron points out in the book Saturday ...

  11. Happy Endings Themes

    Discussion of themes and motifs in Margaret Atwood's Happy Endings. eNotes critical analyses help you gain a deeper understanding of Happy Endings so you can excel on your essay or test.

  12. Happy Endings Essay Questions

    Happy Endings Essay Questions. 1. How does the theme of mortality manifest in "Happy Endings"? Atwood depicts mortality as the ultimate end of every character regardless of leading a happy or bad relationship. She portrays the characters in different scenarios having both good and bad endings.

  13. Happy Endings Themes

    The Writing Process. The central theme of "Happy Endings" is the process of writing, specifically the process of writing fiction. That the story is organized into six different versions showcases the author's interest in dramatizing how one creates memorable characters, compelling plot points, and ultimately a good story.

  14. Happy Endings Essay Topics

    Essay Topics. 1. Pick a literary device that Atwood uses in the story and pinpoint all the places it arrives in the narrative. How does it function, and does the device's function change at all over the course of "Happy Endings"? 2. Are the John and Mary in the opening trio of lines the same John and Mary in Section B and Section C?

  15. Happy Endings

    Source: Diane Andrews Henningfeld, Critical Essay on "Happy Endings," in Short Stories for Students, The Gale Group, 2001. April Scheiner. Scheiner is a professional writer with a doctorate in law. In this essay, she considers Atwood's story in relation to the impact of a writer's plot development on the reader's satisfaction.

  16. How to Write a Believable Happy Ending

    One night after a late dinner party, he returns to house of his rich hosts and breaks into it. He tiptoes into their bedroom where they're sleeping, sees a pair of pants hanging over a chair ...

  17. "Happy Endings" by Margaret Atwood: [Essay Example], 1959 words

    Nonetheless, "Happy Endings" reflects individual's life where, one falls in love, marries, owns a home, gets kids, retires and eventually dies. On the other hand, I decided on a story by Ernest Hemingway "Hills Like White Elephants" because I find it more complicated as well as symbolic.

  18. Happy Endings Essay Examples

    Stuck on your essay? Browse essays about Happy Endings and find inspiration. Learn by example and become a better writer with Kibin's suite of essay help services.

  19. Happy Endings Teaching Guide

    Start an essay Ask a question Join Sign in ... Write a short piece similar to ''Happy Endings'' that deals with the ''how'' and ''why'' of storytelling as opposed to the ...

  20. Happy Endings by Margaret Atwood Free Essay Example

    As in 'The Age of Lead,' 'Happy Endings' forces us to question the point of life. Every story, carried to its ultimate logical conclusion, has the same ending, because all lives have the same ending. We may die in the heat of battle; we may die in our sleep. We may die in infancy, in a gang war, in a nursing home.

  21. Essay about Happy Endings & True Love

    This essay is primarily concerned with the concept of the Hollywood romance happy ending. On a broader scale, it is also concerned with addressing the relationship of these endings to something which (I think it is fair to say) most believe Hollywood seldom attempts to do: depict romantic love `realistically'.

  22. Free Essay: "Happy Endings" Essay

    Assignment #1 - Short Stories Essay In the short story "Happy Endings" there were quite a few unexpected elements. At the beginning of the story, John & Mary meet. There are five different stories with five very different endings. In "Happy Ending A", John and Mary actually have a happy ending. After the two meet, they fall in love ...

  23. Happy Ending Essay

    Happy endings are when the protagonist solves their problems with either themselves or someone else. The story would usually end with a "happily ever after.". An unhappy ending is usually more about reality since in real life a happy ending is hard to find. An unhappy ending usually. 1125 Words. 5 Pages. Decent Essays.

  24. Casey Wilson Announces 'The Happy Endings' TV Recap Podcast

    For the girls. Adam Pally and Casey Wilson, the King and Queen of Vulture Festival, are launching The Happy Endings podcast, a show that ran on ABC from 2011 to 2013, which, as Wilson puts it ...