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(Not So) Serious Literature

One of the questions that I, along with every other student of high school English, has pondered is this: why don’t any great works of literature have happy endings?

Ok, so maybe not everyone has given this a lot of thought, but I have. Yes, I am a loser.

I confess. I like happy endings.

I’d rather read a comedy than a tragedy. Sue me.

And I’ve always wondered why novels with depressing conclusions seem to be more respected than those that *gasp* do not kill, maim, or leave their characters alone and full of sorrow. I know this is supposed to be a reflection of the human condition. Life sucks and then we die, right? Nice.

I have a different theory. I think writing a tragedy is just plain easier. Yup, I see tragedy as the easy route.

Why? For the simple reason that it is ever so much easier to be a pessimist than to be an optimist. A search of Amazon.com for “how to be happy” led to more than 1,000 books on the subject, and a search of “how to be a pessimist” led to none. Zero, zip, nada. (Incidentally, I do not endorse the book at the top of this blog. I just liked the title.) Most people have no trouble finding the negative. But it is a struggle to transcend the trials and tribulations of the world; it is a struggle to maintain hope. It is the human condition to find the negative, but it is the divine condition to transcend it.

According to Joseph Campbell in The Hero with a Thousand Faces, “[Comedies], in the ancient world, were regarded as of a higher rank than tragedy, of a deeper truth, of a more difficult realization, of a sounder structure, and of a revelation more complete. The happy ending of the fairy tale, the myth, and the divine comedy of the soul, is to be read, not as a contradiction, but as a transcendence of the universal tragedy of man…. Tragedy is the shattering of the forms and of our attachments to the forms; comedy, the wild and careless, inexhaustible joy of life invincible.”

I think the ancients had it right.

Take that, Hamlet.

(Reposted from my own blog DreamQuest.)

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