“If you want a happy ending, try A:” The Underlying Theme of Death in Margaret Atwood’s “Happy Endings”
Edgar Allan Poe once said, “The boundaries which divide Life and Death are at best shadowy and vague. Who shall say where the one ends and the other begins?”(1). Death and its effects, as well as the mechanics of writing, are depicted in many of Atwood’s works, deeply influenced by her passion for Edgar Allan Poe’s works in literature. Death for Atwood in “Happy Endings” is not simply another macabre literary experiment. Atwood demonstrates that through death, beginnings and endings share a meaning that is one and the same and it resonates throughout the structure, narrative, reader interpretation, and overall tone of this piece of literature.
Margaret Atwood’s “Happy Endings” first appeared in the 1983 Canadian collection, Murder in the Dark: Short Fiction and Prose Poems (47-50) and was later published for the American audience in Good Bones and Simple Murders in 1994 (50-53). Atwood, a “famously scary and prodigiously gifted” intellectual with nearly 50 books to her name - poetry, fiction, critical essays, book for children, radio and film scripts, anthologies, and collections of short stories – leaves one questioning whether a happy ending is the outcome of an entire life well lived or how well life is at the time of death or can death itself be the “Happy Ending?” (McCrum).
Much like The Works of Edgar Allan Poe published in 1895 where the pages are uncut, they must be unfolded, close attention must be paid to the page numbers, and a flipping of the pages back and forth is required in order to read it properly, Atwood utilizes a similar non-linear and somewhat tricky structure in “Happy Endings” (AVAK9). Although...
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...eader with something quite profound. It is something the reader knows within, but refuses to acknowledge, and still she does it effortlessly.
In one story, six vignettes different in nearly every possible way, Atwood manages to express the theory of death through theme. Her refusal to pander to reader expectations, creating an uncertain if not a somewhat dark but mercurial plot, and inviting readers to experience different characters utilizing scenarios A-F, Atwood underhandedly manages to highlight the roles of both the writer and the reader in creating fiction. Life is complicated, and perhaps fictions which aspire to measure up to those complexities will struggle to find straightforwardness in anything much at all, let alone in the sense of an ending. That 's the way the fairy tales go. But life isn 't a fairy tale, and there 's no such thing as “Happy Endings.”
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