When It Happens

by

Margaret Atwood

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Mrs. Burridge Character Analysis

Mrs. Burridge is a 51-year-old woman who lives with her husband Frank Burridge on an isolated farm. Mrs. Burridge thinks Frank is a good man and relies on his care and protection, though she is often frustrated with him and fears he’s becoming weaker lately. She and Frank have three children together, all of whom are now adults and live elsewhere. Despite being the main character, Mrs. Burridge’s first name is never revealed. She lived through the Great Depression and World War II, both of which created in her a skepticism toward social institutions, particularly the media. At the start of the story, Mrs. Burridge is canning green tomato pickle, a process that normally makes her feel safe. Mrs. Burridge used to enjoy canning food to put in her cellar because it was something to rely on in case of hardship. However, more recently, Mrs. Burridge has become increasingly apocalyptic in her thinking. She spends much of her day waiting for a doomsday scenario that she is convinced will happen soon. In the event of such a catastrophe, Mrs. Burridge does not think that the food in her cellar will help her survive and she begins to make other plans. While writing a grocery list, Mrs. Burridge begins daydreaming about an apocalyptic scenario. In her daydream, Mrs. Burridge almost immediately sets out on her own with only a few personal items and a shotgun to keep her safe. Soon, she comes across two men in the woods who she thinks plan to harm her. She raises the gun, intending to fire at one of the men, and then the daydream stops. Afterwards, the story ends abruptly as Mrs. Burridge completes her grocery list and then leaves the house.

Mrs. Burridge Quotes in When It Happens

The When It Happens quotes below are all either spoken by Mrs. Burridge or refer to Mrs. Burridge. 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:
The Mundane and the Apocalyptic  Theme Icon
).
When It Happens Quotes

It used to annoy Mrs. Burridge, especially the crumbs, but now she watches him with a kind of sadness; she once thought their life together would go on forever but she has come to realize this is not the case.

Related Characters: Mrs. Burridge, Frank Burridge
Page Number: 120
Explanation and Analysis:

On paper Frank is making more money than he ever has: yet they seem to have less to spend. They could always sell the farm, she supposes, to people from the city who would use it as a weekend place; they could get what seems like a very high price, several of the farms south of them have gone that way. But Mrs. Burridge does not have much faith in money; also it is a waste of the land, this is her home, she has it arranged the way she wants it.

Related Characters: Mrs. Burridge, Frank Burridge
Page Number: 121
Explanation and Analysis:

When the second batch is on and simmering she goes to the back door, opens it and stands with her arms folded across her stomach, looking out. She catches herself doing this four or five times a day now and she doesn’t quite know why . . . She isn’t sure what she is looking for but she has the odd idea she may see something burning, smoke coming up from the horizon, a column of it or perhaps more than one column, off to the south.

Related Characters: Mrs. Burridge
Page Number: 121
Explanation and Analysis:

The cellar is the old kind, with stone walls and a dirt floor. Mrs. Burridge likes to have everything neat . . . The pickles go on one side, jams and jellies on the other, and the quarts of preserves along the bottom. It used to make her feel safe to have all that food in the cellar; she would think to herself, Well, if there’s a snowstorm or anything and we’re cut off, it won’t be so bad. It doesn’t make her feel safe any more. Instead she thinks that if she has to leave suddenly she won’t be able to take any of the jars with her, they’d be too heavy to carry.

Related Characters: Mrs. Burridge
Page Number: 122
Explanation and Analysis:

She comes back up the stairs after the last trip. It’s not as easy as it used to be, her knee still bothers her as it has ever since she fell six years ago, she tripped on the second-last step. She’s asked Frank a million times to fix the stairs but he hasn’t done it, that’s what she means by pig-headed. If she asks him more than twice to do something he calls it nagging, and maybe it is, but who’s going to do it if he won’t? The cold vacant hole at the back of this question is too much for her.

Related Characters: Mrs. Burridge, Frank Burridge
Page Number: 122
Explanation and Analysis:

He can’t protect me. She doesn’t think this on purpose, it simply occurs to her, and it isn’t only him, it’s all of them, they’ve lost the power, you can tell by the way they walk. They are all waiting, just as Mrs. Burridge is, for whatever it is to happen. Whether they realize it or not.

Related Characters: Mrs. Burridge, Frank Burridge
Page Number: 122
Explanation and Analysis:

All her life, ever since she got married, she has made lists of things that have to be bought, sewed, planed, cooked, stored; she already has her list made for next Christmas, all the names and the gift she will buy for each, and the list of what she needs for Christmas dinner. But she can’t seem to get interested in it, it’s too far away. She can’t believe in a distant future that is orderly like the past, she no longer seems to have the energy; it’s as if she is saving it up for when she will have to use it.

Related Characters: Mrs. Burridge
Page Number: 123
Explanation and Analysis:

Mrs. Burridge wishes someone would be more precise, so she could make better plans. Everyone knows something is going to happen, you can tell by reading the newspapers and watching the television, but nobody is sure what it will be, nobody can be exact.

Related Characters: Mrs. Burridge
Page Number: 124
Explanation and Analysis:

It is about this time too that she takes one of the guns, she thinks it will be the shotgun as she will have a better chance of hitting something, and hides it along with the shells, under a piece of roofing behind the barn. She does not tell Frank; he will have the twenty-two. She has already picked out the spot.

Related Characters: Mrs. Burridge, Frank Burridge
Page Number: 126
Explanation and Analysis:

He comes out, kisses her goodbye, which is unusual too, and says he’ll be back in a couple of hours. She watches the three of them drive off in Henry Clarke’s truck, towards the smoke, she knows he will not come back. She supposes she ought to feel more emotional about it, but she is well prepared, she has been saying goodbye to him silently for years.

Related Characters: Mrs. Burridge, Frank Burridge, Henry Clarke
Page Number: 127
Explanation and Analysis:

She must wait until they are close enough and then she must raise the gun and shoot them, using one barrel for each, aiming at the faces. Otherwise, they will kill her, she has no doubt about that. She will have to be fast, which is too bad because her hands feel thick and wooden; she is afraid, she does not want the loud noise of the burst of red that will follow, she has never killed anything in her life. She has no pictures beyond this point. You never know how you will act in a thing like that until it actually happens.

Related Characters: Mrs. Burridge
Page Number: 129
Explanation and Analysis:
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Mrs. Burridge Character Timeline in When It Happens

The timeline below shows where the character Mrs. Burridge appears in When It Happens. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
When It Happens
Control vs. Lack of Control Theme Icon
Family, Community, and Isolation Theme Icon
The Patterns of Domestic Life Theme Icon
Mrs. Burridge stores 12 quarts of green tomato pickles in jars. She knows there is a strike... (full context)
Control vs. Lack of Control Theme Icon
Family, Community, and Isolation Theme Icon
The Patterns of Domestic Life Theme Icon
Mrs. Burridge feels as though she has grown wealthier, despite the relative uselessness of the green tomatoes.... (full context)
Family, Community, and Isolation Theme Icon
The Patterns of Domestic Life Theme Icon
Mrs. Burridge regularly jokes with Frank about how much he eats. She no longer gets any joy... (full context)
Control vs. Lack of Control Theme Icon
The Patterns of Domestic Life Theme Icon
Although Frank brings in more money than ever, Mrs. Burridge feels as though they are becoming poorer. She thinks about selling their farm to someone... (full context)
The Mundane and the Apocalyptic  Theme Icon
While waiting for her second batch of pickle to simmer, Mrs. Burridge “goes to the back door, opens it and stands with her arms folded across her... (full context)
The Mundane and the Apocalyptic  Theme Icon
Family, Community, and Isolation Theme Icon
The Patterns of Domestic Life Theme Icon
Frank does not press Mrs. Burridge on her lie any further. She thinks it’s because he does not want to bring... (full context)
The Mundane and the Apocalyptic  Theme Icon
Control vs. Lack of Control Theme Icon
Family, Community, and Isolation Theme Icon
After the pickles cool, Mrs. Burridge creates labels and then moves the jars down to the cellar. Mrs. Burridge is well-organized... (full context)
Control vs. Lack of Control Theme Icon
Family, Community, and Isolation Theme Icon
The Patterns of Domestic Life Theme Icon
After placing the pickles in the cellar, Mrs. Burridge goes back up the stairs. In recent years, climbing the stairs has become more difficult... (full context)
The Mundane and the Apocalyptic  Theme Icon
Control vs. Lack of Control Theme Icon
Family, Community, and Isolation Theme Icon
Now back on the first floor of their home, Mrs. Burridge actively resists taking another trip to the back door. However, as an alternative, she goes... (full context)
The Mundane and the Apocalyptic  Theme Icon
Control vs. Lack of Control Theme Icon
Family, Community, and Isolation Theme Icon
When Mrs. Burridge goes into town and sees other women, she reads anxiety and fear in their faces.... (full context)
The Mundane and the Apocalyptic  Theme Icon
Family, Community, and Isolation Theme Icon
Mrs. Burridge knows she will never hear Frank’s response to her question because she never plans to... (full context)
The Mundane and the Apocalyptic  Theme Icon
Control vs. Lack of Control Theme Icon
Family, Community, and Isolation Theme Icon
Mrs. Burridge ’s trip into town is the next day, and she wants to plan it so... (full context)
The Mundane and the Apocalyptic  Theme Icon
Family, Community, and Isolation Theme Icon
Rather than write her list, Mrs. Burridge gazes around the room and thinks about all of the things she cannot take with... (full context)
The Mundane and the Apocalyptic  Theme Icon
Control vs. Lack of Control Theme Icon
Mrs. Burridge wants someone to tell her what is going to happen so she can be prepared.... (full context)
The Mundane and the Apocalyptic  Theme Icon
Family, Community, and Isolation Theme Icon
Afterwards, Mrs. Burridge is unsure of the order in which things will happen. However, she believes that soon—without... (full context)
The Mundane and the Apocalyptic  Theme Icon
Family, Community, and Isolation Theme Icon
Mrs. Burridge also thinks the phone wires will go down and no one will repair them. This... (full context)
The Mundane and the Apocalyptic  Theme Icon
Family, Community, and Isolation Theme Icon
Mrs. Burridge previously had to keep her dogs chained because they once bit a Jehovah’s Witness. Mrs.... (full context)
The Mundane and the Apocalyptic  Theme Icon
Control vs. Lack of Control Theme Icon
Family, Community, and Isolation Theme Icon
When the phone lines go down and Mrs. Burridge starts seeing men on the back road, she plans to take one of Frank’s guns,... (full context)
The Mundane and the Apocalyptic  Theme Icon
Family, Community, and Isolation Theme Icon
The next step in Mrs. Burridge ’s vision of the future is for the electricity to slowly fade until it no... (full context)
The Mundane and the Apocalyptic  Theme Icon
Family, Community, and Isolation Theme Icon
One day, Mrs. Burridge wakes up to find “columns of smoke,” so she finds Frank and the two of... (full context)
The Mundane and the Apocalyptic  Theme Icon
Family, Community, and Isolation Theme Icon
Mrs. Burridge “knows” Frank will not be back. She is not emotional about this moment because “she... (full context)
The Mundane and the Apocalyptic  Theme Icon
Control vs. Lack of Control Theme Icon
Mrs. Burridge begins packing, bringing along warm clothes, food, and the hidden shotgun. She considers killing the... (full context)
The Mundane and the Apocalyptic  Theme Icon
Mrs. Burridge thinks about what to do with the dogs. Eventually, she allows them to run free,... (full context)
The Mundane and the Apocalyptic  Theme Icon
Mrs. Burridge moves into the woods but quickly comes across two men at a fire. They see... (full context)
The Mundane and the Apocalyptic  Theme Icon
Control vs. Lack of Control Theme Icon
The Patterns of Domestic Life Theme Icon
Mrs. Burridge knows she will have to fire the gun quickly but is worried about her ability... (full context)