A thing about me is that I love happy endings. I love closing a book with all of my favorite characters alive and at peace at the end, with the couple that I’ve been shipping together finally becoming an item, and with the big bad defeated. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes I enjoy a good cry and a sad ending just makes more sense for the story. But generally speaking, I would take a happy ending over anything else.
One thing that’s always bothered me with the occurrence of a happy ending, however, is the immediate reaction of people saying “that’s unrealistic.” I’ve even heard people say things like “some books or movies would be more respected if they didn’t have a happy ending” or “it’s good despite the happy ending.” If we dissect those for a moment, we can see that what people really mean by that is that happy endings don’t exist in real life, therefore happy endings also shouldn’t exist in fiction. Something else that is implied in those previous statements, is that happy endings are inherently less worthy or meaningful because they are sappy and cheesy while sad endings are dark, gritty, and more impactful.
To counter these arguments, for me fiction has never meant “a literal representation of real life,” but a way to interpret, cope, and give it meaning. We deal with real-life already just by existing, and many of us don’t turn to stories just to live through others’ also incredibly realistic lives. We go to them to experience something other than our own lives, for entertainment and escapism. So sometimes we don’t want a story that goes the way it would go in real life, but we look for something that defies all odds and somehow ends up well. What’s the point of every book being “life sucks and then you die”? Not only is it unrealistic in and of itself, because I would say that sometimes good things do happen in real life, but it is also very boring and pessimistic.
In addition, there’s this idea that cheesiness is feminine while grittiness is masculine. So, the less feminine a story is, the better, which seems to be borderline sexist. I don’t mean that as “everyone who hates happy endings is sexist,” but it does tend to be a thing that many of us have internalized. We hate everything that is girly and give critical acclaim to everything that is not.
And if we think about it, sometimes sad endings are unrealistic too. Characters die in really unnecessary and stupid ways, problems that are easily resolved unexplainably spiral into tragedy, or the bad ending just comes so out of nowhere that you are left wondering what the point of the entire book was. But we tend to accept endings like this more often because tragedy happens in real life without rhyme or reason, even though it happens with good things too. However, we don’t often make the same excuses for happy endings.
I’ll admit that yes, happy endings are sometimes wildly unrealistic and that can take away from the story. But I would say that the majority of the time a happy ending makes perfect sense. Happy endings can be smart, thought-provoking, and everything a sad ending is, but even for those unrealistic happy endings, I would make the case that they give us hope, and I think having hope is sometimes more important than completely making sense.