Happy Endings Analysis
by Margaret Atwood

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Historical Context

(Short Stories for Students)

The Constitution Act
Canada’s original constitution was an act of Britain’s Parliament, and since the 1930s, Canadian officials and politicians have worked to bring the Constitution under direct Canadian control. Not until 1972 did Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau finally win unanimous agreement for a complex package including a formula for amending the Canadian constitution, a role for the provinces in choosing Supreme Court judges, and a transfer of some other powers to the provinces. When Quebec’s premier backed out of the agreement, however, negotiations had to begin again, and the amending and modernization of the Constitution was delayed. In September 1980, federal and provincial leaders met again to work out terms of a new Canadian constitution, but a compromise that satis- fied the provincial and federal governments was not negotiated until November 1981. While the provincial governments, for the most part, accepted the proposed constitution, many Canadians—particularly feminists, aboriginals, the disabled, and ethnic minorities—were not satisfied. Many of these groups lobbied for changes, resulting in an ‘‘Equality Clause’’ proclaiming that men, women, and the disabled would be guaranteed complete equality before the law. Canada’s new Constitution Act was finally signed on April 17, 1982.

The Canadian Economy and Government
In the early 1980s, Canada experienced a recession, leading many Canadians to call for significant economic reform. After years of supporting the Labour Party, voters elected the Progressive Conservative Party into power in 1984. The new government, headed by Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, attempted to improve the economy through the privatization of different industries, the deregulation of business, and a reform of the tax structure.

Canada has long been divided along language and cultural lines. Both English and French are the official languages of the nation. French is the sole official language of the province of Quebec where a majority of French Canadians live. French Canada has periodically demanded the separation of Quebec from the rest of the country. This platform was supported by the Parti Quebecois, which won control of the province’s government in 1976. Four years later, in 1980, Quebec held a referendum on separation, but 60 percent of voters elected to remain a part of the nation. However, French Canadians continued to demand special status for Quebec.

Canadian Literature
Many Canadian writers in the 1980s continued to focus on events and people in Canadian history, as well as on traditional Canadian concerns. In addition to Atwood, other Canadian writers who wrote in English were read by the international community included novelist Brian Moore, literary critic Northrop Frye, short story writer Alice Munro, and essayist and novelist Robertson Davies. In this same period, French-Canadian authors were trying to establish a unique identity in keeping with their cultural origins. Jacque Godbout’s 1982 novel, Tetes a Papineau, explored the political tensions of French Quebec, which was torn between its desire for independence and its reliance on English-speaking Canada. The continuing separatist movement produced a new generation of writers in the 1980s and 1990s.

Literary Style

(Short Stories for Students)

‘‘Happy Endings’’ is satirical in the way that it makes fun of the naive conception that a person’s, or a couple’s, life can have a simple happy ending. In version A, John and Mary build a life based on their nice home, rewarding jobs, beloved children, enjoyable vacations, and post-retirement hobbies. They experience one success after another. No problems or difficulties—major let alone minor— are mentioned; as such, their life is completely unreal.

Such unreality is emphasized by the events of version B. While John and Mary do not achieve this happy ending, John does achieve it—but with Madge. And in yet another version, Madge achieves this happy ending with Fred. Although all the...

(The entire section is 3,834 words.)