August 26, 2003

"Happy Endings"

This is what I wrote for my first assignment for ENGL 325 that we were given on the first day of class. We were asked to respond to Margaret Atwood's work titled "Happy Endings" and I decided to consider in mine whether or not this piece is a story, if it does all the things that a story should do (why or why not), and whether or not it was satisfying to read.

Margaret Atwood's "Happy Endings" can certainly be considered a story. The statement John and Mary die, in and of itself cannot. That tells us the What, but says absolutely nothing about the How or the Why. The what is simply a description of events that may or may not have occurred. The How and the Why are much more difficult to get at; they apparently elude many mainstream authors. Some people actually find reading What, after What, followed by What to be immensely boring. I'm personally one of them. What may be something easy for a reader to digest (excuse the veiled pun), but it is in no way meaningful. It always boils down to the very same thing: John and Mary die.

A story is much more than a composite of words that make semantic sense when read together. It is a combination of What, How, and Why. While I was engaged (immersed would definitely be the wrong word choice here) in reading "Pants on Fire" by Nicholson Baker, I kept finding myself asking How and Why. How did what happened make him into a man? Why was it he only owned five shirts after four months on the job? Minds like mine want to know these things. Only conveying What transpired is simplistic. While I was trying to make sense of "The Zebra Storyteller" by Spencer Holst, I thought, "Now here is an author that prefers to expound the converse of the last. While he explains the How and the Why the What happens to walk up to him and he isn't at all surprised by it." He immediately forms an opinion of it and deals with it swiftly and appropriately. This author showed me that when you have the How and the Why the What just comes along naturally. Atwood's "Happy Endings" is not a satisfying story because it gives the reader a limited explanation of the How and Why at the end, but it is the very presence of those two elements is what qualifies it as a story.

Just so you know that I know, she is making fun of people who write plots.

-- CrystalShiloh @ 10:53 PM