In Happy Endings, what is Atwood saying about gender roles in Canada at the time when the story was written and what does that mean?
Margaret Atwood is a distinguished feminist Canadian author whose work often critiques established Canadian gender roles. In her story "Happy Endings", Atwood satirizes the notion of the perfect ending to a story in which a woman protagonist finds fulfillment by getting married and living "happily ever after". First, as the narrator points out, because humans are mortal, the narrative of every human ends with that person's death, even if the author does not include it in the story.
The next issue Atwood raises is the image of happiness as consisting of a marriage. In the first "happy ending", we have the cliched ideal of a happy marriage. In the subsequent stories, we have a more realistic sense of how gender roles operated in Canada in the period. First, we see the dynamic in which women were in theory the partners who stayed home and cooked while men had more active and interesting lives; the version in which Madge devotes her life to charity after the death of her husband is an example of this.
Next, we see the interaction of ageism and gender. We see John's anxiety about his age leading to an affair with a younger woman. In general, sex appeal is associated purely with youth in the universe of the story.
One also gets a sense of Canada as still homophobic in the period in which the story was written, as none of the relationship variants include any sense of possible gay, bisexual, queer, transgender or nonheteronormative relationships. We also see a society in which white anglophone Canadians exist in an ethnically uniform world quite different from today's Canada.