When It Happens

by

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.
Family, Community, and Isolation Theme Icon

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 own, leaving Frank behind. In addition, while Mrs. Burridge occasionally speaks to her children, none of them feature regularly in her life, and two of them are never even given names in the story. Similarly, while Mrs. Burridge knows her neighbors, none of them could be classified as friends. As such, Mrs. Burridge has no one to confide in; she does not even tell Frank about her concerns for the future, and she plans to hide one of his guns from him if something were to happen. Although Mrs. Burridge spends most of the story worrying about isolation due to a catastrophic event, what she does not realize is that she has already isolated herself by doing so. While the story doesn’t specify how and at what point Mrs. Burridge’s isolation began, it’s clear that her way of coping—chiefly through worry and fantasy—only makes her isolation intractable.

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Family, Community, and Isolation ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Family, Community, and Isolation appears in each chapter of When It Happens. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Family, Community, and Isolation Quotes in When It Happens

Below you will find the important quotes in When It Happens related to the theme of Family, Community, and Isolation.
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:

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:

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: