Margaret Atwood’s ‘‘Happy Endings’’ first appeared in the 1983 Canadian collection, Murder in the Dark, and it was published in 1994 for American audiences in Good Bones and Simple Murders. Subtitled ‘‘Short Fiction and Prose Poems,’’ Murder in the Dark featured four types of works: autobiographical sketches, travel notes, experimental pieces addressing the nature of writing, and short pieces dealing with typical Atwood themes, notably the relationship between the sexes. ‘‘Happy Endings,’’ which is essentially a self-referential story framework, falls into the third category.
In several thumbnail sketches of different marriages, all of which achieve a traditional ‘‘happy ending,’’ Atwood references both the mechanics of writing, most particularly plot, and the effects of gender stereotyping. In earlier works, including the novel Bodily Harm, as well as speeches, Atwood discusses the writer’s relationship to society. She defined the artist, in part, as ‘‘the guardian of the moral and ethical sense of the community.’’ In ‘‘Happy Endings,’’ Atwood fulfills this role with a challenge that she throws out to those writers who rely on the stereotypical characterization of men and women and to the reader who accepts such gender typing. At the same time, she challenges other writers to more closely examine typical literary convention.