Happy Endings


Margaret Atwood

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on Happy Endings can help.

James Character Analysis

In scenario C, James is Mary’s young, independent, and often unavailable lover. James, who owns a motorcycle and an impressive record collection, is adventurous and desirable, in contrast with Mary’s other lover, John, who is older and uninteresting. When James visits Mary, John walks in on them getting high and having sex, and kills them both in a jealous rage before committing suicide. While in many ways interchangeable with John throughout the various other iterations of the story, in scenario C James is representative of the relative freedom enjoyed by men, both in general and specifically in terms of romantic and sexual relationships. While Mary is left waiting for him to return to her, James is able to go off on adventures on his motorcycle, and is implied to have engaged in other sexual relationships.

James Quotes in Happy Endings

The Happy Endings quotes below are all either spoken by James or refer to James . For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Sex and Gender Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Virago edition of Happy Endings published in 2001.
Happy Endings Quotes

But James is often away on his motorcycle, being free. Freedom isn’t the same for girls, so in the meantime Mary spends Thursday evenings with John.

In scenario C, the narrator continues to discuss the reasons that Mary has settled for a sexual relationship with the older John when she really wishes she could be with James. This passage again illustrates the uneven playing field when it comes to sexual and romantic relationships between men and women. James is able to go off on adventures and be “free,” implying not only physical freedom but also the freedom for sexual promiscuity and autonomy. On the other hand, since freedom “isn’t the same for girls,” Mary has no such options. Instead, she must settle for what is available to her, in the form of middle-aged, romantically unappealing John. While James and Mary seem to be otherwise of roughly equal age and social status, their relationship is a fundamentally unequal one because it is predicated on such a socially conditioned gender imbalance. Even when Mary attempts to assert her own autonomy, and perhaps correct \this imbalance, by engaging in a sexual relationship with another man, she is nowhere close to achieving the level of freedom and autonomy represented by James and his motorcycle.

Related Characters: Mary, John, James
Related Symbols: James’s Motorcycle
Page Number: 66-67

John tells Mary how important she is to him, but of course he can’t leave his wife because a commitment is a commitment. He goes on about this more than is necessary and Mary finds it boring, but older men can keep it up longer so on the whole she has a fairly good time.

Related Characters: Mary, John, Madge, James
Page Number: 67
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire Happy Endings LitChart as a printable PDF.
Happy Endings PDF

James Character Timeline in Happy Endings

The timeline below shows where the character James appears in Happy Endings. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Happy Endings
Sex and Gender Theme Icon
Relationships and Marriage Theme Icon
In scenario C, Mary is in love with an adventurous young man names James, who is attractive and aloof, with an impressive record collection. While Mary is interested in... (full context)
Sex and Gender Theme Icon
Relationships and Marriage Theme Icon
Storytelling Tropes Theme Icon
Mortality Theme Icon
James returns from one of his adventures and proceeds to get high and have sex with... (full context)