Study Guide

Happiness

by Mary Lavin

Happiness Summary

Summary (Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“Happiness” begins rather abruptly as the narrator speaks of her mother, Vera, as having “a lot to say.” What the mother discussed, almost incessantly, was her own happiness and happiness as a way to live. However, nearly every other character in the story challenges her assertion of the importance of happiness. For example, Father Hugh, a friend and supporter from a local monastery, challenges it directly by claiming that sorrow is a “necessary ingredient” in happiness, a view that Vera rejects. He also feels that Vera places far too much emphasis on happiness, especially happiness in this world. Vera’s own children question her sharply about her supposed happiness, and they suggest that happiness is not really defined by Vera, that it is not that important, and that one can live without it. Her daughter Bea calls Vera’s insistence on her happiness a “sham.” At times, Vera’s children redefine their mother’s concept of happiness as courage, or persistence; it certainly is something that they notice in their mother’s efforts to maintain happiness in the midst of chaos and loss.

Vera’s mother acts as a foil to her daughter’s insistent happiness. She resolutely refuses to be pleased by anything, and if something seems momentarily pleasant, she comments on its eventual loss. Father Hugh says, “God Almighty couldn’t make that woman happy.” In contrast, Vera’s father was a happy man, even on his deathbed. He nurtured...

(The entire section is 543 words.)