Happy Endings


Margaret Atwood

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James’s Motorcycle Symbol Analysis

James’s Motorcycle Symbol Icon

In scenario C, Mary is in love with James, an independent and free-thinking young man with a lust for adventure aided by his possession of a motorcycle. Here, the motorcycle is representative of male sexual freedom and control, as juxtaposed with the constraints placed upon women’s sexual agency. While James is often “away on his motorcycle, being free,” Atwood notes that “freedom isn’t the same for girls.” Similarly, James is able to pursue sexual and romantic relationships at his leisure, while Mary, in his absence, is forced to settle for the attentions of the much older John. The motorcycle, like James’s record collection and access to drugs, is also indicative of youth and independence—although Atwood indicates that this sort of independence is highly gendered and ultimately inaccessible for women of the same age.

James’s Motorcycle Quotes in Happy Endings

The Happy Endings quotes below all refer to the symbol of James’s Motorcycle. 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
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Happy Endings PDF

James’s Motorcycle Symbol Timeline in Happy Endings

The timeline below shows where the symbol James’s Motorcycle 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
...While Mary is interested in a relationship with him, James is often away on his motorcycle having adventures, and so Mary engages in a sexual relationship with John, a much older... (full context)