Happy Endings

by

Margaret Atwood

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Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Virago edition of Happy Endings published in 2001.
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Happy Endings Quotes

He doesn’t take off Mary’s clothes, she takes them off herself, she acts as if she’s dying for it every time, not because she likes sex exactly, she doesn’t, but she wants John to think she does because if they do it often enough surely he’ll get used to her, he’ll come to depend on her and they will get married, but John goes out the door with hardly so much as a goodnight and three days later he turns up at six o’clock and they do the whole thing over again.

Related Characters: Mary, John
Page Number: 64
Explanation and Analysis:

Mary gets run down. Crying is bad for your face, everyone knows that and so does Mary but she can’t stop. People at work notice. Her friends tell her John is a rat, a pig, a dog, he isn’t good enough for her, but she can’t believe it. 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.

Related Characters: Mary, John
Page Number: 65
Explanation and Analysis:

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:

Yes, but Fred has a bad heart. The rest of the story is about how kind and understanding they both are until Fred dies. Then Madge devotes herself to charity work until the end of A. If you like, it can be “Madge,” “cancer,” “guilty and confused,” and “bird watching.”

Related Characters: Madge, Fred
Page Number: 68
Explanation and Analysis:

If you think this is all too bourgeois, make John a revolutionary and Mary a counterespionage agent and see how far that gets you. Remember, this is Canada. You’ll still end up with A, though in between you may get a lustful brawling saga of passionate involvement, a chronicle of our times, sort of.

Related Characters: Mary, John
Page Number: 69
Explanation and Analysis:

You’ll have to face it, the endings are the same however you slice it. Don’t be deluded by any other endings, they’re all fake, either deliberately fake, with malicious intent to deceive, or just motivated by excessive optimism if not by downright sentimentality.

The only authentic ending is the one provided here:

John and Mary die. John and Mary die. John and Mary die.

Related Characters: Mary, John
Page Number: 69
Explanation and Analysis:

So much for endings. Beginnings are always more fun. True connoisseurs, however, are known to favour the stretch in between, since it’s the hardest to do anything with.

That’s about all that can be said for plots, which anyway are just one thing after another, a what and a what and a what.

Now try How and Why.

Page Number: 70
Explanation and Analysis:
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