When Stories Don’t End “Happily Ever After”

“NOOOO!!!!” I cried, tilting my head back and letting out a howl of horror.

“What?” my roommates asked, looking over to make sure I was alright.

I let out another soft groan as I sank downwards in my chair, the book in my hands coming up to cover my face.

“Emily, what happened?”

“Whhhhhhhyyyyy!” I moaned as I continued to sit slumped in my seat.

One roommate glanced at what I was holding over my face. “Um…problem with the book you’re reading?” she guessed logically, figuring, as an English major, that might be the cause of my distress.

“Yeeeeesssss!” I chose to whine. “Everyone dies! Five pages from the end everyone who is important diiiiieeeeesss!” I knew I was sounding pathetic, going on about a book and its tragic ending. Nonetheless I was distressed. I had become attached to characters, formed bonds over the three hundred pages so far. Why did things have to end like that?

Tonight I went through a similar dilemma. I was watching a French movie, simply enjoying  a film. And as the film began wrapping up I got this weird intuitive feeling that things were simply too happy and a movie like this one couldn’t end so peacefully. As the woman walked out into the street I immediately knew she was going to be hit by a car. Sure enough a van comes by and smacks her onto the pavement. Her friend sadly looks down at her body before covering her face with his coat.

I’ll admit it. I like happy endings. A majority of the time I would rather watch a Disney movie than some tragic artistic film. Now admittedly sad endings have merit. Some of those stories are the classics, the canon…what we consider the best! But my poor little heart simply can’t take it.

It’s a matter of preference. One of my roommates continually makes me watch movies she calls “amazing” that end up making me feel depressed and hopeless. I have another friend who is averse to any kind of tragedy. I fall somewhere in between the two. While I admittedly do not pursue sad movies and books on my own, I can enjoy them every so often. I just like it best when there’s a bit of hope in the end too.

Sorrow is a part of the human experience and humans have always been drawn to trying to capture and portray pain. We question it. We wonder why it exists. We try to figure out how to escape it if we can. We sympathize with other’s experiences. And we simply sit and sink into those feelings in a small bit of helplessness, and yet holding onto the glimmer of hope that we are not alone.

I think in many ways that is why we are so drawn to sorrow. One of my friend’s favorite movies is The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Though certainly not a tragedy, it is a sad story. The first time I saw it I cried throughout and felt depressed for a good week. The second time I admittedly felt a little better about it afterwards and held back any tears. And perhaps if I watch it again my experience will continue to improve. The story of a struggling high school student who is lonely and confused and finds refuge in books and writing speaks to my own experience. The first time I watched all I felt was the raw pain, the reminders of what it was like to be bullied, isolated. The second time I watched I felt more of a sense of peace. Others understand. Others get it. I am not alone.

There are benefits to both types of stories. One reaches into the joy we feel, touches those places inside us that yearn and hope. The other brushes across wounds, reminds of hard times, and lets us remember the human experiences of grief and pain. Which do you prefer? Perhaps like me it is a combination. At times it is hard to read the sad. But sometimes, it speaks to me in the right way and in spite of my obvious annoyance at the story not ending quite the way I want, I can appreciate having a better sense of the struggles all humans have. And I can enjoy a story, even if it doesn’t have the traditional Disney happy ending.

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2 Comments

Filed under Reading

2 responses to “When Stories Don’t End “Happily Ever After”

  1. I enjoyed this post. I’m like you, I want stories to have a happy (and yet realistic) ending. However, I liked how you addressed the significance and need for stories with sad endings. I also appreciated how you structured your post; it’s hard to find a narrative arc for blog posts like these that discuss abstract topics. Good Job!

  2. I loved how you described your reaction to the end of the book. You did a great job of capturing what it feels like when a beloved fictional character or characters die. It’s horrible! It always takes a few days of grieving before I can move on.

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