When It Happens


Margaret Atwood

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Themes and Colors
The Mundane and the Apocalyptic  Theme Icon
Control vs. Lack of Control Theme Icon
Family, Community, and Isolation Theme Icon
The Patterns of Domestic Life Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in When It Happens, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

The Mundane and the Apocalyptic

Margaret Atwood’s “When It Happens” demonstrates how boredom and dissatisfaction can quickly twist themselves into something more sinister. Mrs. Burridge is a 51-year-old woman in a loveless marriage who constantly worries about the future. On the surface, she has no reason to be concerned: her children are alive and healthy, she and her husband Frank have more money than ever, and the farm they live on is largely self-sustaining. However, the information she hears in…

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Control vs. Lack of Control

“When It Happens” depicts an extreme case of a universal fear: the lack of control one has over the future. Mrs. Burridge desires to control every aspect of her life. Her home is largely self-sustaining and includes animals for food and milk, a gas pump, and plenty of room for storage. Yet, Mrs. Burridge constantly worries that these things are not enough. She works hard to create a surplus of goods, only to worry about…

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Family, Community, and Isolation

In “When It Happens,” Atwood suggests that Mrs. Burridge’s boredom and unhappiness stem from her lack of interaction with her family and the broader community. From the beginning of the story, it is clear that Mrs. Burridge is not happy with her marriage; she does not hate Frank, but she also no longer loves him. This fact is solidified later in the story, during the apocalyptic fantasy where she sets out on her…

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The Patterns of Domestic Life

“When It Happens” is concerned with the patterns people fall into after living together for a long time. Mrs. Burridge and Frank have lived together for many years; they have three children, all of whom are now fully grown and live elsewhere. During their many years together, they have come to know each other intimately. Although the story never allows access to Frank’s thoughts, Mrs. Burridge has a clear sense of what she sees as…

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