What was Margaret Atwood’s inspiration for her story “Happy Endings”?
Margaret Atwood took “furtive glee” in her story “Happy Endings,” writing in what she thought was an experimental and innovative form, only to discover that the form itself had already been named metafiction. This term describes fiction that comments on the art of fiction or the telling of stories, forging a collaboration with the reader and breaking down what is known as the “third wall.” Atwood’s unusual and unique story parodies such genres as soap opera and pulp fiction, while the story’s real discourse concerns the nature and craft of storytelling, particularly, how stories end. “Happy Endings” is broken into six sections—marked A through F—which, together, form a self-reflexive work on the art of storytelling that encompasses the author’s ideas about such weighty subjects as sex roles and death. Atwood creates a miniature instructor’s manual on story writing and stretches the boundaries of genres to set up plots that reveal where all plots ultimately lead. The story is a call to action, as well as a revelation of what makes storytelling anything but easy—all rendered with humor, parody, and cleverness. Ultimately, “Happy Endings” shows us the lines that separate life and fiction and life and death.
Atwood further compared writing “Happy Endings” to finding a white frog. She thought she was being experimental and innovative, only to discover that the form of what she was creating had already been named meta-fiction. This term describes a form of fiction that comments on the art of fiction or the telling of stories and is anchored in self-reflexivity—one of the hallmarks of Post-modernism. “Happy Endings” is designed around the notion that a reader, whose role is highly collaborative, knows what is expected and what is supposed to come—but doesn’t.