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The Commonality of the Female Victim in Literature

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Stephen martin

Intro to Literature 232

Professor Strong-Green

11 May 2009

The commonality of the female victim in literature

A Feminist critique of "Happy Endings"

"Feminist writers tend to present their ideas in two basic ways," according to Colleen McCulloh.

One is to show what is wrong, the other is to exemplify what is more deplorable. The first method might show women with traditional values who only desire to marry and live a domestic life, with the outcome ending in disaster. The other might show a woman who is strong and triumphs over adversity in a particularly male dominated world, focusing on the needs of women and showing how they can live full lives. (n. pag)

Margret Atwood uses both styles in her short story "Happy Endings" to illustrate the constant portrayal of female victimization in literature, and in society as a whole.

The short story "Happy Endings" is about John and Mary, their relationship with one another, and the multiple roads their relationship can take. Therefore the story has multiple endings, in the end John and Mary die. In the first version John and Mary meet, fall in love; they get married have children good sex great jobs, and live happily ever after. In the second version John and Mary are dating. Mary falls in love with John, but this is one sided. John is not in love with Mary. John just uses Mary for sex. Mary distraught, commits suicide, John hardly notices and goes on with his life. In the third version John and Mary meet and have an affair. John is married to another woman. Mary is using John for money John is using Mary for sex. Mary is also seeing James. John catches Mary and James in bed. John becomes jealous and kills Mary, James and himself. Madge, John's widow continues her life with Fred her second husband. In the fourth version Fred and Madge have a wonderful life and escape a flood. In the fifth version Fred has a heart attack and dies, or Madge has a heart attack. One can insert either character; the end to this version has one person dead and the other senile. In the sixth and final version, no matter what scenario the reader uses John and Mary die.

Version A is a classic example of the female in the traditional role. John and Mary fall in love, marry, have children, have jobs, and good sex. This portrayal is very non-descript, there is no detail given on the type of work the characters do, no detail on the trials of raising a family. Everything is very traditional, very boring and short. This is intentional. Atwood is drawing attention away from the traditional role by its nondescript nature and marginalizing the traditional role of women. She also gives all the power of this relationship to John, because in the traditional relationship it is up to the man to determine if he will ask the woman to marry. Therefore if John didn't want Marriage this version would be different.

Version B is the longest, and shows Mary as the emotionally damaged woman. She will put up with John's lack of commitment, and emotional detachment. Mary's body is used for John's sexual gratification. John doesn't ever take Mary out to dinner. Mary's self image is defined by what John notices or by the lack of what he notices, she makes dinner, John has no comment, she is dressed nice and wears makeup, John doesn't notice. Mary gives and gives to John, and John takes without ever giving in return. Mary is taken for granted and denied intimacy, not sex, intimacy. "After he's eaten the dinner he fucks her and then he falls asleep ......with hardly so much as a good-night and three days later he turns up at six o'clock and they do the whole thing over again."(Atwood 43) Mary thinks John will eventually come around, but is eventually emotionally worn down. When Mary finds that John is seeing another woman, she tries a desperate attempt to get attention, she takes sleeping pills and sherry. "She leaves a note for John. She hopes he'll discover her and get her to the hospital in time and repent then they can get married, but this fails to happen and she dies."(Atwood 44) To add insult to injury John marries the other woman, there is no mention of John even noticing that Mary is dead, and for John life goes on, and he lives happily ever after. This is noteworthy because this is the only version in which John's life goes on as normal.

Version C is an example of the strong female in male a dominated situation, the "independent woman". (Mary is independent in her thought and use of sex but that's all.) This version portrays Mary as the young gold-digger with a sugar daddy. Mary plays the part of the other woman at the same time. Mary is the woman who is easily impressed by what is important to a less mature person, the record collection and the motorcycle. This makes Mary seem shallow and

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