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What Exactly is Happily Ever After, and Why Does it Matter?

So the other day, I’m surfing the Internet looking at Harry Potter writings (I’m a recent Potterhead and enjoying the addiction). I came across someone complaining about The Cursed Child and the Deathly Hallows epilogue, saying that they were too "heteronormative." In other words, this person wanted to know why it was always necessary for our favorite characters to get married (to a heterosexual, but I guess really to a person of any gender) and have kids to be happy.

Now, I’m a sucker for what TV Tropes calls Babies Ever After, but that post made me wonder. Why is marriage/babies held up as the ultimate happy ending? Is it the only one? What works can you name where this didn’t happen, but the characters were still happy and fulfilled? How has the concept of "happily ever after" evolved? Discuss.

  • I would say read Madame Bovary as it works as an antithesis to the traditional happily ever after. The character of Emma Bovary originally wanted nothing more than to get married, but soon starts desiring other things in life and becomes frustrated with the mundanity of married life. I don't want to give away too much here as it may spoil the story, but the idea of marriage and being a parent as the ultimate form of happiness is challenged in that story. You may also consider different gender perspectives in the happily ever after or "Babie ever after" trope as a lot of feminist literature likes to point out how what makes a female happy in marriage may vary for males. And for the LGBTQ community, it may because marriage and adoption is something that is legally denied to them in many countries. This theory has a lot of layers to it that need qualifications. I personally like stories that end with this trope as well, but I'm also aware of how it was used to keep females in a secondary position and treated them as a prize to be won. Though it is not to say that males did not desire as well. A good example of a male protagonist that wants desires this trope is Sanosuke Harada from the Hakuori Shinsengumi visual novels. – Blackcat130 4 years ago
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  • A couple of things to consider: The happy ever after (babies ever after) is a pacifier that stems from an industry pushing an 'aspirational' social value. Keep the status quo rolling along by showing us what we should want. Secondly, the romance novel industry dictates a happy ever after ending as it is expected. Queer romance sells best when it is HEA, but there is also a place for happy for now. – sheena 4 years ago
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  • I definitely don't think marriage/babies is the only type of happy ending. I love movies like Waitress, where the protagonist is able to get out of the abuse she may be in and leave any other baggage in order to do something for herself or coming of age movies where you see the protagonist really become an adult in a positive way. I hope that makes sense! – CatBeeny 3 years ago
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  • Biologically speaking, the goal of an organism is to pass its genes on to another generation. That said, I think humans are intelligent enough to make their lives meaningful in other ways. One of Eriksen's stages of development is "generatively vs stagnation". I look at it as one of the things people need for a fulfilling life is to contribute to the next generation, but that doesn't mean everyone needs to have children. You can contribute by being a good aunt or uncle, a writer, or through other careers. Society and the media bombards us with the idea that a happy life entails marriage and children even though that isn't a happy life for everybody. One reason I think marriage is sought after is people see the majority doing it and fear loneliness if they do not do the same. I think the media needs to start pushing more of a narrative that happiness is in self-fulfilment, achieving career and personal goals, being healthy, being independent, and other components to a happy ending besides romance and children. – Dawe 3 years ago
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  • I believe 'happily ever after' could be open to interpretation where the characters in a story are content at the end. It could mean them achieving what they aspired to at the beginning or something else they least expected but will have come to terms with said achievement. Society has long created the norm that only romantic love equates to 'happily ever after.' While it is true in some occasions, it is not necessarily the only cause for a happy ending. Achieving one's heart's desire can truly bring happiness to the soul. Unfortunately, popular culture doesn't emphasize this enough. An example is how Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote Sherlock Holmes. His happily ever after was fulfilling his mission in life by being the best sleuth he could be, thereby gratifying is soul. Doyle did create a happily ever after for Holmes's sidekick Dr. Watson in the form of romance (however short-lived). Either way both characters were content with where their lives were by the last book Doyle wrote. – mfernando 2 years ago
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