Happy Endings


Margaret Atwood

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Themes and Colors
Sex and Gender Theme Icon
Relationships and Marriage Theme Icon
Storytelling Tropes Theme Icon
Mortality Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Happy Endings, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Sex and Gender

In “Happy Endings,” Atwood describes a variety of scenarios involving stock characters she calls John and Mary in order to reflect upon gender and sexuality. Throughout these iterations of character arcs and story stereotypes, Atwood presents sexuality as heavily conditioned by social and gender norms, most often to the detriment of women. In particular, women’s sexuality is often socially dependent upon men, whose needs are put first, over and above women’s. The story’s title itself…

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Relationships and Marriage

Throughout the story, the character arcs of John, Mary, and others are all described in relation to one another, most often in terms of romance and eventual marriage. Atwood highlights the way in which these events function less as interesting narrative developments and more as necessary fulcrums in the plot, moving the story along inexorably toward its ending. Once marriage happens, the story’s usually over—barring plot-worthy tragedies like natural disaster or disease—and the…

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Storytelling Tropes

Beyond illustrating the problematic dynamics underpinning sexual and romantic relationships, “Happy Endings” is concerned with the nature of storytelling itself. “Happy Endings” details the broad plot arcs of a variety of different stories, poking fun at the traditional structure that underpins so many of them. In doing so, Atwood asserts that the broad strokes of a life—who sleeps with whom, who marries whom, who dies and how—as less interesting than the day to day trials…

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Throughout “Happy Endings,” the various romantic scenarios and plot features the story describes all end in death. In all of the archetypal plot elements she caricatures, Atwood emphasizes that death and loss are a fundamental part of any story. While marriage may be an ending of a sort, of the “lived happily ever after” variety, it’s never the true ending: death is the ultimate conclusion of any story, and there’s no use pretending otherwise. Accepting…

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