Happy Endings

Happy Endings Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Margaret Atwood's Happy Endings. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Margaret Atwood

Margaret Atwood is a prominent poet and author from Canada, best known for works such as Alias Grace and The Handmaid’s Tale. She is a prolific author, having published seventeen books of poetry, sixteen novels, and many other works of short fiction and critical writing. Because her father was an entomologist, she spent a great deal of time as a child in remote wilderness locations, sparking an early love of reading and nature. After studying at the University of Toronto and Radcliffe College, Atwood embarked upon a career as a poet and novelist, with her first collection of poetry published in 1961. Atwood’s works are best known for exploring themes such as feminism, gender relations, Canadian identity, and environmentalism, and for her often experimental literary style. She is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Man Booker Prize, an Arthur C. Clarke Award, a Nebula award, and a Guggenheim Fellowship, among many others.
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Historical Context of Happy Endings

“Happy Endings” was written in the 1980s, when second wave feminism was at its height, and as such it reflects concerns with sex, gender, and relationships that were prevalent at the time. The story also pokes fun at post-war prosperity in its description of “happy endings” that involve home ownership, soaring real estate values, and the suburban nuclear family. Throughout the story, Atwood uses an experimental literary style that has its origins in Modernism, a literary movement that began several decades prior in the early 20th century.

Other Books Related to Happy Endings

Other short stories and prose poems throughout Atwood’s collection Murder in the Dark contain similar themes to “Happy Endings,” including explorations of storytelling, feminism, and death. Atwood’s collection Good Bones is another work of experimental fiction dealing with similar themes that was later, along with Murder in the Dark, compiled into a volume titled Good Bones and Simple Murders. Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale also addresses themes concerning gender imbalance and sexual politics, while her novel The Blind Assassin tackles similar topics including storytelling, archetypes, and authorship. Atwood was influenced by earlier Canadian literature, such as that by Canadian writer and settler Susanna Moodie, as well as by Grimm’s Fairytales and other collections of myth and legend.
Key Facts about Happy Endings
  • Full Title: “Happy Endings”
  • When Published: 1983
  • Literary Period: Contemporary
  • Genre: Short story, literary fiction
  • Setting: Canada
  • Climax: The narrator reveals that the endings of stories are all the same.
  • Antagonist: Death
  • Point of View: Third person omniscient

Extra Credit for Happy Endings

Murder in the Dark: “Happy Endings” is part of a larger collection, Murder in the Dark, which features experimental short fiction and prose poetry.