When It Happens

by

Margaret Atwood

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The Mundane and the Apocalyptic Theme Analysis

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  Theme Icon

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 the media, the concern she reads on people’s faces, and the apocalyptic visions she reads in Watchtower all make her believe something terrible is going to happen. Mrs. Burridge begins to imagine herself taking off on her own with a gun, eventually coming across some men who she believes she needs to shoot.

Although Mrs. Burridge’s fears are genuine, the story also suggests that this possibility excites her; her life has become so mundane and easy that these apocalyptic fantasies are her way of passing the time. At this point in her life, her children are raised and there is little she needs to do to satisfy Frank. Instead, she spends much of her time staring out the back window, waiting to see smoke on the horizon that signals the coming apocalypse. By the end of the story, the same boredom that created this line of thinking makes even menial tasks difficult for Mrs. Burridge, as a grocery list written on the back of the calendar page quickly becomes an exercise in catastrophic thinking. Ultimately, Mrs. Burridge’s apocalyptic predictions never come to fruition, yet the effect they have on her is keenly felt.

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The Mundane and the Apocalyptic ThemeTracker

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The Mundane and the Apocalyptic Quotes in When It Happens

Below you will find the important quotes in When It Happens related to the theme of The Mundane and the Apocalyptic .
When It Happens Quotes

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:

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: