Friday, April 26, 2013

The End of Happy Endings

I just saw this interview of Lauren Oliver, author of Delirium, in which she says she doesn't believe in happy endings. This belief is woven through her writing and is a product of the pain she has lived through. She's had a tough life. Not the worse I've ever heard, but she's come through some difficult experiences and has drawn from them in her writing. Yet to me the saddest part is that she has allowed these experiences to control her attitude toward life and the future. She writes about the truth as she sees it, but she has no hope, or more likely she hides it under a ruse so that she does not recognize it, and as a result her writing has to have a more ambiguous ending. If the reader desperately wants hope they can see it, but it doesn't really mean it is there or that the hope lasts longer than the next day the character lives.

In the artist community there is a general disdain for HEA (Happily Ever After) endings, positive music, beautiful canvases and good always wins and rides off into the sunset. It's true these are used in many forms of art and much of the reaction against them is that they were very popular in the past, are currently very popular with the average, less-sophisticated, easily entertained masses and today's critics are too sophisticated and cynical to believe them anymore. The edgy, counter-cultural artist avoids them like the plague if they want to be taken seriously as an artist. There is no worse insult than to say an artist's work "will appeal to the masses." It's the same as saying a painting should be hung on a refrigerator, i.e. even a four-year-old could have thought this up and the only reason 'the people' like it is because they don't know any better. Critics and the artists they love resist this. They know all too well that bad things happen.

And to a degree they are right. Life does not work out that way. To live with the expectation that you will fall in love, get married and be happy for the rest of your life will lead to disillusionment and intense disappointment. There is a need for realistic art. Sometimes the good guys lose. Justice fails. Love turns to hate. We don't always get what we want. Big dreams die. These are the facts from everyday life and we need to appreciate the truth found in this reality we live in.

However, there is also truth in the fact that everyone still clings to hope. This is a truth 'the masses' understand all too well. Sometimes life is horrible, but other times it is beautiful. We exist through the atrocities because deep down we still believe that the wonderful is possible. The alternative is that life is not worth living and every person living is still clinging to hope that it is. This is why we take the next breath, why we get up in the morning and why we allow ourselves to exist through pain no matter how intense.

Everyone living believes in some form of a happy ending, because what a happy ending represents is hope. If a person truly has no hope then they have lost all reason to live and they will die. Hope is what grounds us to earth no matter what life circumstances we may be going through. We have to believe that something better is possible. We have to believe that one day things will be better, if not for us then for those who come after us.

Oliver may say she doesn't believe in happy endings. But either she doesn't understand herself and her deepest motivations, or she doesn't understand what a happy ending is. Even though her mouth speaks the words her heart denies them. She may think she doesn't believe in happy endings, yet she still does. The article ends with a quote that she has hope for the future because of the ideals and values of the next generation. She may not believe she will find a happy ending but she still believes it is possible for others. One day this next generation will see what she does not: A better world.

In this I think she is right, but not because of the next generations' political view or preference for physical books. The next generation has the ability to see the horrors of this world and still face them with hope. Pain is worth enduring. Hope is worth keeping. Life is always worth living.

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