A friend of mine has joined a facebook group called “Disney movies have given me unrealistic expectations of love”. I found this to be a very charming group. In a Disney film, there is always a happy ending, when the beast gets his beauty or Pocahontas gets her whoever. In an earlier post, titled literary devices, I talked about how the multitude of stories in our lives has affected the way we view reality. We are constantly bombarded with stories, which are descriptions of events that follow a narrative. Narrative, however, is not real life. We see stories all around, making it increasingly difficult to distinguish the difference between events in a narrative and events in real life. (read this) The concept of an ending surely plays a part here. My unmarried friend, however sarcastic and witty she may be, by joining this fb-group confesses (in a funny and endearing way) that she longs for the end of her story, her prince and half a kingdom.
Are there any endings? Surely, like pauses in any symphony, a change in conditions can be called an ending. A person finishes school, a jail sentence or gets married. Death, obviously, can be seen as an ending. A change in conditions, however, is a fundamental concept of existence. Change keeps coming back, it’s neither the beginning nor the end. It is with us all the time. I believe forcing a change in conditions to be a beginning or an end creates unrealistic expectations for life.
Happy endings often give the reader a sense of cosmic justice. The evil is defeated, the tension broken, a state of eternal happiness has been suggested. When a victorious couple rides into the sunset, the reader can feel somehow purified. A happy ending restores faith in life. Real life, of course, seldom offers static happiness. Have we, who are subjected to stories all the time through tv and other media, came to expect cosmic justice or eternal happiness through our daily exposure to stories? Do we have a false world view due to unconscious expectations? Again, unrealistic expectations?
To fight the cheesy, eternally peaceful happy ending, some authors prefer a sad one instead. The protagonist loses – or worse still, gets killed. He becomes a victim of suicide or homicide, betrayed by those he trusts. Evil wins, prevails and reigns. This solution may take the worst cheesiness out of a story, yet it still provides closure and leaves the reader laden with emotions – which for many authors is the raison d etre of literature. A story is no story if you aren’t touched by it. Make the reader feel something and you’ve got yourself a successful novel.
Why does an ending need to be happy or sad, why doesn’t the plot just end? In real life, there is no closure, only pauses in the rhythm of life. Why pretend there is closure by giving us emotion-laden endings? The reason is that not doing so may leave the reader feel betrayed, incomplete. “Did I just read 500 pages for nothing?” This very feeling is what I want to dissect with this blog post. Why do we desire closure? More specifically, why do we desire emotion-laden closure? Also, turning the question upside down, is our desire for closure a result of the multitude of stories we have experienced?
As a saying goes, “the opposite of love is not hate but indifference”. The opposite of a happy ending is not a sad one, but an indifferent one. A non-ending. Indifference doesn’t sell books, so if there is an indifferent ending out there, it is probably in a postmodern novel without an audience.
I could form a facebook group called “beginnings and endings (happy or sad) have given me unrealistic expectations of life.” Hmm maybe a more successful method might be to rid myself of our unrealistic expectations, I’ll just ignore the beginnings and endings, the past and the future and look around me. What do I see, feel or do this very second? Change is present in every second we experience. My hair is slowly thinning, my youthful face ageing, my breakfast is digesting. Change is omnipresent and not confined to beginnings or endings. Life, while we live it, is not a story.
ps. I finally finished the Fountainhead by Ayn Rand. At the end, I decided I liked it and consider it worthy reading – because of the ending. 😉 The novel could have been shortened by quite a bit, but I believe her epic style is a part of her uniqueness. I respect her for sticking to her style, however much it demands of the reader.