Happy Endings Questions and Answers
by Margaret Atwood

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In "Happy Endings," what is Atwood saying about gender roles in Canada at the time when the story was written?

In "Happy Endings," Margaret Atwood satirizes the idea of a perfect ending in which the characters live "happily ever after." Atwood makes it clear that the authentic ending to any version of these stories is that "John and Mary die," but it is in the how and the why that they die that is of import. Though both genders suffer, the women in their roles suffer more long-term, the outcomes of their lives indifferent to the choices that they make.

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In "Happy Endings," Margaret Atwood uses the "choose your own adventure" trope—popular in the 1980s, when her short story was written—to highlight and satirize gender roles in traditional Western relationships.

If A is the titular "happy," uncomplicated ending, each successive iteration of the story sees the relationship become more complex.

Often, the emotional weight of that complexity rests on the women. In option B, for example, Mary exerts the effort of a marriage and relationship with John, while John simply stops in twice a week for dinner and sex while formally courting Madge. In version C, Mary maintains a relationship with John out of guilt and pity, and John in turn cheats on Madge before killing Mary and her lover James.

This isn't to say bad things don't happen to the men in "Happy Endings"—the men do suffer, too. Fred, in one iteration, endures a tidal wave. In another, a bad heart. James, in version C, is collateral damage when John becomes enraged at and then kills...

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