When It Happens


Margaret Atwood

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The Patterns of Domestic Life 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 Patterns of Domestic Life Theme Icon

“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 Frank’s strengths and faults. She despises what she calls his “pigheadedness” but ultimately sees him as a kind man who never wishes anybody any harm.

However, despite her overall positive opinion of Frank, it is obvious that Mrs. Burridge no longer loves him. They do not communicate in any significant way, but instead revert to common rituals that feel comfortable. For instance, Mrs. Burridge will tease Frank about what he eats, and he responds that she needs to have more fun in life. This is not a sporadic moment in the story, but rather something that happens on a daily basis, always more or less the same way. This creates a monotonous existence for both Frank and Mrs. Burridge that they seem unable to break out of. Again, Frank’s thoughts never enter the narration, but Mrs. Burridge is clearly unhappy. Her fantasies take the form of hiding things from Frank and abandoning him in the event of a catastrophe—fantasies that, as the story goes on, Mrs. Burridge almost seems to want to happen. Although these fantasies are also spurred on by other larger social institutions such as the media, the core of Mrs. Burridge’s uncertainty and unhappiness originates in her marriage, which has settled into a seemingly unbreakable cycle—one so stagnant that it can only be broken by an apocalyptic event. 

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The Patterns of Domestic Life ThemeTracker

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The Patterns of Domestic Life Quotes in When It Happens

Below you will find the important quotes in When It Happens related to the theme of The Patterns of Domestic Life.
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:

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: