In Margret Atwood’s Happy Endings,the author attempts to bring out common love scenarios based on different relationships between her two main characters - John and Mary. In scenario A, the two fall in love, marry and live happily ever after. Scenario B is a case where Mary falls in love with John, but he does not reciprocate. She does all in her power to make him love her but it is unsuccessful. She gives in to a sexual relationship she does not enjoy in the hope that John will come around and marry her. In an effort to win his sympathy, she commits suicide when she learns of an affair between John and Madge. John is unmoved and ends up marrying Madge, and the two live happily ever after. Version C is the reverse of B, where John falls in love with Mary, but she does not fall in love with him. In this version, John is married to Madge, when he starts a relationship with Mary. John ends up killing Mary, her lover and then himself when he catches them red handed in bed. Unknown to him, Mary only had been with him out of pity. Madge mourns John but soon remarries, and she and her new husband live happily ever after. In Scenario D, Fred and Madge have lived happily together as in scenario 1 and not even a natural catastrophe that befalls their home is enough to separate them. Instead, their love grows stronger, and they live happily ever after. In E, Fred dies of heart disease and Madge devotes her time to charity. In scenario F, the author explains the other scenarios and leaves the reader at discretion to choose whichever version they please.
Love is the most dominant theme in this story. To develop the theme, she uses the two main characters, John and Mary, and several other minor characters. The choice of common, insipid names is deliberate. The characters lack distinct characterization and behave differently in each version. The reason for using these bland names is to develop the characters as hypothetical beings - John can be any man, while Mary can be any woman. This makes the reader identify themselves more readily with the characters. The author underscores the fact that where there is genuine love, there is always a happy ending. In Scenario A, both John and Mary love each other and hence their relationship, marriage and by extension lives are a success. In B, the love between Mary and John is one-sided, and hence the relationship does not end well. However, since John loves Madge, their relationship brings happiness to both of them. The author makes her message clear - one cannot make someone love them. Love is voluntary. This is clear from Mary’s unrewarded love in Version B. She goes to great pains to gain John’s love serving him like a slave, cooking for him and doing the dishes while he sleeps after they have sex. All that notwithstanding, John sees her as a tool for "pleasure and ego gratification of a tepid kind"(Atwood 22).
The author also wishes to show that unreciprocated can be dangerous to the point of becoming fatal. It is unreciprocated love that drives Mary to commit suicide in scenario 2 and drives John to kill Madge and her lover James, and then himself in scenario 3 (Atwood 23).
The author also intends to show how people in love support each other and overcome problems that would otherwise be too tough for them to face. In scenario E, Fred and Madge are able to get through a natural calamity that sweeps their house away and kills people at the beach by their thousands. However the two are "virtuous and lucky" and in some way they survive."Finally on high ground they clasp each other, wet and dripping and grateful, and continue on as in A" (Atwood 23). The love between them aids them in overcoming the problem at hand.
The author also attempts to draw our attention to the fact that a relationship based on pity cannot last and can indeed be dangerous to both. The relationship between John and Mary in version 3 ends in their deaths as it is based on the pity that Mary feels for John rather than love.
The author uses a somewhat unconventional structure to develop her theme of love. This helps her tell many stories in one and also makes the reader identify more readily with the characters as they become hypothetical when they are presented in more than one characterization.