Life is not very different from a Hollywood film; in fact, it is even more unpredictable, changeable, and confusing. This is one of the main questions of our existence and this is the main point of “Happy Endings” by Margaret Atwood.
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There are so many true stories told about people that can serve scenarios for Oscar-winning movies. However, the major theme of all films, as well as the main concern of our life is the relationships between men and women. Love, romance, family, devotion, betrayal, role of woman in the society, unrequited love and pure love, and all that drama is what everything else revolves around.
The only difference is that films almost always have happy endings and life always ends up in one thing for all people – the death. Atwood provides several examples of how the individual’s life can develop, and thus, the author suggests an idea that we should not think about what the result of our relationships will be , as life is very unpredictable, in addition, we must feel every moment of life, and live only in present.
A majority of the fictional narratives focus on the relationships between man and women; in fact, this is the most popular theme that provides ideas for discussions. Margaret Atwood “acknowledged as a foremost author” (Van Spanckeren and Castro 9) succeeded in this “task” and wrote a several different, but typical stories that revolve around this theme.
It consists of six parts that deal with different types of relations and various aspects of romance and love that people encounter in their everyday life. There are four main characters which are the subject matter in hands of the author, John and Mary, and Madge and Fred. In fact, it is not actually a story, but a guide on how to create one. It is “a permutational fiction in the if… then mode” (Wilson 22).
James P. Werlock comments on the form and style of the story: “Happy Endings” is a story about writing a story, with thoughtful advice to both readers and would-be writers (22). It provides several scenarios of the common life stories which can have different endings, however, the author provides that the outcomes will probably be the same.
The six possible endings to the story of John and Mary are written as a skeleton outline” (Werlock 302). The author introduces the story to the reader with a description of an ideal life story to which everybody aspires, but the successive several stories are not so happy, though the author offers the readers a choice, “If you want a happy ending, try A” (Atwood 724). It means that men and women are free to decide what life they want to have and what the “ending” of their relationships will be.
In fact, the ideas of fiction stories are taken from “life scenarios” which are so common. No matter, whether you are a man or woman, you want your life to have a “perfect Hollywood ending” (happy marriage, beautiful house, and wonderful children. But the reality is skeptical and ironical. Thus, the story B provided by Margaret Atwood is more look like a true one. It is a typical description of relations between man and women which can be observed in a real life.
This is a typical “meat” for feminists and it is a story that “an attack against societal conventions, particularly those surrounding the roles of women” (Korb 157). She loves him and he uses her, finally she dies because of the unrequited love. Where is a promised happy end? Well, a man marries a woman, isn’t it a good ending? But the discussion of relations of sexes is not finished yet. Let us focus on the relationships of an older man and a young woman. It is one more true life story when young girls gave love affairs with older men.
Why? Who knows! May be it is love, or money, or solitude, but the outcomes almost always the same… all continues in A. Another scenario is a story of devotion of women to men. She nurses him until his last breath and then devotes her life to volunteering. It is another perspective on the relationships between man and women, which also can find analogue in an everyday life. The characters are undeveloped and the stories are presented like facts, but everyone will find something familiar in every one.
Continuing the theme of the relations of sexes, we can assume that there is one more issue that the author explores in the work. She definitely addresses the question of what is the role of woman in the contemporary society. Indeed, as it has already been mentioned, the author describes different life situations and different social roles women perform.
But what is in the focus? What women should do in this life? If to refer to the endings that Atwood provides, we can conclude that woman should get marry. However, what is more important is what life she has before getting married. Thus, achieving her final goal (marriage) woman can be independent and live the life she wants having relations with other men, or building her career.
As opposed to this, she can also be devoted to one man during all her life and “devotes herself to charity work until the end of A. If you like, it can be “Madge,” “cancer,” “guilty and confused,” and “bird watching.”” (Atwood 726). Thus, woman can be the leader and can be a slave of her emotions and her man, the can be a perfect businesswoman or a great housewife, she also can be “slaver” and own men hears, or she can be a prey of the man’s charm. It is her responsibility to decide, but the end will be the same…
Another theme in the story is a theme of a pure love. The author begins her story with the description of a pure love that lasts forever and makes two people happy. But what do we see in the stories that follow? As it often happens, pure love is rare and the one who shares it does not have a respond from his/her beloved.
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Mary loved Fred and ended her life in suicide, in the next story, John kills Mary and James and himself as well, and Madge is unhappy in E after Fred dies. So, do you still want to feel a pure love? Of course, it is not necessary that everything will end up it death, eventually, there are “happy endings” in life and the author gives us a hope for better outcomes.
Interpersonal relationships are very tangled and they are the hardest to maintain in life. What is more important is the end of these relationships. The author points that “the only authentic ending is the one presented here: John and Mary die. John and Mary die. John and Mary die” (Atwood 726).
Indeed, every person’s life will end up in death. Thus, is there some reason to struggle or change something? “The point is that both of these characters will eventually die, what matters is how and why certain things happen in their lives. That is the real story.” (Woodcock n. p.).
Moreover, is there any “happy ending” at all? In the stories, the author provides the readers with the possibility to choose the ending for each story, thus, life provides people with the choice to arrange his/her life in any possible way, because, “so much for endings. Beginnings are always more fun” (Atwood 726).
Thus, the short story “Happy Endings” by Margaret Atwood is a collection of several life stories which people can encounter in their everyday life. The author explores the topics of the role of the woman in society, theme of pure love and relations of sexes. But the main intention of the author is to persuade people live their lives to the fullest.
Often, people do not take risks to make a desirable step to maintain relationships, such as ask someone to the date, or reject attractions. We often regret about things we did not do. The author provides that there are possibilities of risk and it is better to regret about things you did, than about things you did not do. No matter what you did in your life, you will meet the eternity. However, one should not think about it, but experience every moment of life, because middles are more interesting then endings.
Atwood, Margaret. “Happy Endings.” Literature: Reading Fiction, Poetry and Drama. Ed. Robert DiYanna. 6th ed. New York: McGraw Hill, 2008. 724-26.
Korb, Rena. “Critical Essay on ‘Happy Endings’.” Short Stories for Students. Ed. Jennifer Smith. Vol. 13. Detroit: Gale Group, 2001. Literature Resources from Gale. Web.
Van Spanckeren, Kathryn, and Jan Garden Castro. Margaret Atwood: Vision and Forms. SIU Press, 1988.
Werlock, James P. The Facts on File Companion to the American Short Story. Vol 2. New York: Inc. Infobase Publishing, 2010.
Wilson, Sharon Rose. Margaret Atwood’s Textual Assassinations: Recent Poetry and Fiction. Vol. 1. Ohio State University Press, 2003.
Woodcock, Leah. “On Margaret Atwood’s “Happy Endings””. Web.