Conflict, crisis, and resolution are very interesting aspects of any piece of writing. Without them, one could argue that is no story. It is the perfect combination of all three that brings the reader into the sea of words.
In Margaret Atwood’s “Happy Endings”, conflict abounds throughout the piece as it flows from section to section and connects each piece into a very much more complicated piece than it appears as the readers starts the short story. Section A has no conflict which makes it a rather boring piece. Everything is too perfect. Conflict beings immediately in the next sections as the love is not perfect. Part B shows how Mary loves John, “but John doesn’t fall in love with Mary.” Conflict continues through the sections with most of it being unrequited love.
The crisis within her collection of linked stories varies from piece to piece. The third piece has the crisis occur when two of the characters get high and sleep together only to be discovered by one of the other parties. Atwood also brings in crisis via a tidal wave that destroys the couple’s home, cancer, or international suspense.
Resolution with Atwood involves…death. Every scene ends the same. Atwood says, “The only authentic ending is the one provided here: John and Mary die. John and Mary die. John and Mary die.”
In Annie Dillard’s piece, “Living Like Weasels”, the conflict arises when the narrator makes eye contact with a weasel: “It caught my eye; I swiveled around—and the next instant, inexplicably, I was looking down at a weasel, who was looking up at me.” A pleasant nature meditation became a confrontation with nature.
The crisis within this story comes when the weasel disappears. No longer are they connected in any way. In a sense, the narrator is abandoned as she “waited motionless, my mind suddenly full of data and my spirit with pleadings, but he didn’t return.”
Resolution comes in understanding the impact of the encounter on the narrator’s life. Dillard sums it up as:
I think it would be well, and proper, and obedient, and pure, to grasp your one necessity and not let it go, to dangle from it limp wherever it takes you. Then even death, where you’re going no matter how you live, cannot you part. Seize it and let it seize you up aloft even, till your eyes burn out and drop; let your musky flesh fall off in shreds, and let your very bones unhinge and scatter, loosened over fields, over fields and woods, lightly, thoughtless, from any height at all, from as high as eagles.
Both of these pieces had me hooked as a reader, but it was Atwood’s that caught me the quickest as hers was a unique style and immediately had me questioning what she was leading up to. Her tension starts immediately: John and Mary meet. What happens next? If you want a happy ending, try A.” The reader immediately wonders what is going on and has to read on to discover what such odd words mean. There is no slow progression to the tension, and it never slows down. I do feel that Dillard’s piece is a more dramatic and poetic move toward the tension when she writes
He examined the eagle and found the dry skull of a weasel fixed by the jaws to his throat. The supposition is that the eagle had pounced on the weasel and the weasel swiveled and bit as instinct taught him, tooth to neck, and nearly won. I would like to have seen that eagle from the air a few weeks or months before he was shot: was the whole weasel still attached to his feathered throat, a fur pendant? Or did the eagle eat what he could reach, gutting the living weasel with his talons before his breast, bending his beak, cleaning the beautiful airborne bones?
The reader is not even at the tension part yet drama is hinted at in a way that seems like poetry.
In the end, Atwood brings the tension to the reader quicker and keeps the momentum moving. Both are excellent and still have me pondering their message long after reading them.
Atwood, Margaret. “Happy Endings”. Purdue University. Web. 1 January 2016.
Dillard, Annie. “Living Like Weasels”. Virginia Commonwealth University. Web. 1 January 2016.