Happy Endings

I need help picking one of these short stories and writing a three page paper on it.

Instructions: Select one prompt on which to write a paper of no more than three pages in length. Submit the essay via the link on the ‘Assignments’ page of our Blackboard site. Stories may be found on Blackboard’s ‘Course Documents’ page: Margaret Atwood’s “Happy Endings”; A. S. Byatt’s “The Story of the Eldest Princess”; Karen Joy Fowler’s “The Elizabeth Complex”; Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston’s “Rock Garden”; Gabriel García Márquez’s “The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World”; Edith Wharton’s “Roman Fever.” Review the rubric on the ‘Assignments’ page to gain a better understanding of what is expected of this formal academic paper! Most importantly, remember that this is a class in critical theory: Be certain to explain, not simply define, and apply theoretical concepts within and throughout your paper!

  1. An interesting element of A. S. Byatt’s “The Story of the Eldest Princess” is that the princess realizes she’s in a fairy tale and understands the expectations of her role in that tale. In a sense, she is being ‘hailed’ by the fairy-tale structure. What are the forces that shape her ideology initially, that lead her to understand her subject position, and eventually what forces permit her to rethink that role and break the power of mythic expectation? How, ultimately, does she deconstruct our understanding of the fairy tale, of the quest motif, and of the moral we’ve come to expect at the end of fairy and folk tales?
  1. Joy Fowler’s “The Elizabeth Complex” is a postmodern labyrinth, with four historical “Elizabeths” fragmenting and melding so that by story’s end, we have an uncertain Elizabeth as our protagonist. Historical women: The two words work together and separately to offer you a narrative fabric to critique. How does Fowler subvert both history and the position of women in this story? Why does she use these four diverse “Elizabeths” to critique both the role of women and the role of history in this short story? How is Fowler’s entanglement of women’s roles a response to patriarchal oppression?
  1. Analyze the role of either Alida Slade or Grace Ansley (but not both) in Edith Wharton’s “Roman Fever.” As they reflect upon their lives, and upon each other, how has each become a constructed “subject” in their marriage? How much does each retain of an essential “self,” and how has a sense of “self” shaped who they now are? How, in essence, has the role or each woman been interpellated, based upon societal expectations, and how has patriarchy figured into this development? Be certain to draw upon specific examples and illustrations, explaining fully the connections you recognize.

the concepts that you can define in the paper are


Author: an individual who has created a particular text.

Author Function: a constructed social position devised as a function of discourse. [Michel Foucault, “What Is An Author?” (1969)]

Canon: a term referring to those literary works that are “privileged,” or given special status, by a culture; these are works we often tend to think of as “classics” or as “Great Books”—texts that are repeatedly printed in anthologies of literature and tend to reflect the culture’s dominant ideology.

Death of the Author: the acceptance of writing and creator being unrelated once the text is completed, and so biography of the creator and any intentions for the text ultimately are meaningless. [Roland Barthes, “The Death of the Author,” (1967)]

Discourse: ways of speaking that are bound by ideological, professional, cultural, political, or sociological communities—ways of thinking and talking about the world which promote specific kinds of power relations.

Ideology: a belief system that develops out of cultural conditioning—and which may be repressive or oppressive even as it is passed off as “the way it is” in the world; these interrelated ideas form a seemingly coherent view of the world.

Intentional Fallacy: concern for the author’s purpose in writing the work; to the New Critic, this way of determining the meaning and effectiveness of a work is erroneous because it is based on information outside the text. [W. K. Wimsatt & Monroe Beardsley, The Verbal Icon (1954)].


Deferral: the inability to isolate a signifier as multiple possibilities always already exist. [Jacques Derrida, Différance (1968)]

Différance: the concept suggesting that words and signs can never fully summon forth what they intend to mean, but are always reliant upon additional words and signs from which they differ, demonstrating the instability of language. [Jacques Derrida, Différance (1968)]

Dissemination: the inability to isolate a signified, as multiple possibilities always already exist. [Jacques Derrida, Différance (1968)].

Horizon of Expectations: expectations likely on part of readers based upon understanding of genres, works, and languages; what they value and look for in a work [Robert Jauss, Literary History as a Challenge to Literary Theory (1967)].

Implied Reader: reader ‘created’ by the text, based upon necessary skills and qualities required for the text to have an intended effect [Wolfgang Iser, The Implied Reader (1972)]

Indeterminacies: uncertainties or ‘blanks’ within a text that must be filled in by the reader; indeterminacies exist wherever a reader perceives something to be missing between words, sentences, paragraphs, stanzas or chapters [Wolfgang Iser, “Indeterminacy and the Reader’s Resposne in Prose Fiction” (1971)].

Interpretive Communities: existence of multiple and diverse reading groups, each with specific reading goals and strategies, leading to the inevitability of multiple interpretations [Stanley Fish, “Interpreting the Variorum” (1976)].

Lisible (readerly text): a prescriptive text that attempts to dictate meaning to the reader, resulting in a “readable” text that brings “pleasure” while allowing the reader “consumption” of the material yet without challenging the reader as a subject. [Barthes, S/Z (1970)].

Scriptible (writerly text): an open text that allows for participation by the reader in determining meaning rather than prescriptively dictating meaning, thus allowing the reader to engage in a “writable” text that brings “bliss” (jouissance) while fracturing the subject-status of the reader. [Barthes, S/Z (1970)].

Signification: a representation or conveyance of meaning through the interaction of:

  • Sign: combination of signifier and signified, producing meaning;
  • Signifier: sound or script image used to represent a more abstract concept, the ‘signified’;
  • Signified: abstract idea being represented by the signifier, although meaning is recognizably arbitrary. [Ferdinand de Saussure, A Course on General Linguistics (1916)]

Subject: identity as defined by cultural and social practices; the person defined externally.

Transcendental Signified: the apparent meaning to which all signs point but to which they can never refer because of an inevitable gap between signifier and signified into which all meaning falls. [Jacques Derrida, Différance (1968)].


Archetypes: inherited ideas and patterns such as universal and recurring images and motifs that exist in the collective unconscious and which appear in literature, art, fairy tales, dreams and rituals; they emerge in individuals through dreams, visions, and creative production. [Carl Gustav Jung]

Collective Unconscious: the unconscious mind derived from ancestral memory and experience, distinct from the personal unconscious, and common to all humankind. [Carl Gustav Jung, “The Structure of the Unconscious” (1916)]

Constructivist: belief in a personal and socio-cultural development of truth.

Electra Complex: the daughter’s unconscious desire for father’s attention, creating rivalry with mother for that attention, originally referred to as the “negative Oedipus complex.” [Sigmund Freud].

Essentialist: belief in the natural/biological certainty of truth.

Individuation: conscious realization of one’s unique psychological reality, including both strengths and limitations; it is ultimate maturation—discovery, acceptance, integration [Carl Gustav Jung].

Oedipal Complex: son’s unconscious desire for mother’s attention, creating rivalry with father for that attention [Freud].

Self: the individual untouched and untainted by cultural factors and influences; intrinsic nature of person.

Self-Defense Mechanisms: behaviors protecting us from unwanted emotions such as anger, guilt, fear, and anxiety, displayed in activities such as:

  • displacement—transference of feelings on unrelated thing/person;
  • repression—deliberate withdrawal of attention from disagreeable experience;
  • projection—one’s own unconscious quality/characteristic perceived and reacted to in another;
  • regression—retreat into childish tendencies governed by id impulses [Sigmund Freud].

Subject: identity as defined by cultural and social practices; the person defined externally.

Tripartite Model: division of individual psyche into three components:

  • Id—source of conscious desires and impulses;
  • Superego—conscience or moral guide, providing discipline and restraint;
  • Ego—mediation of inner self and external world to satisfy both ego and superego [Sigmund Freud, The Ego and the Id (1923)]


Binary Opposition: a concept suggesting how Western culture tends to think and express thoughts in terms of contrary pairs, leading to a privileging of one over the other, e.g., rich/poor, with rich privileged of the pair. [Jacques Derrida, Of Grammatology (1976)]

Commodification: a perception of objects or people for their exchange or sign-exchange value, determining a value the object or person holds in status, power, and worth”

Exchange Value: the value of an object or person in trade for money or other objects or persons.

Sign-Exchange Value: the value of an object or person for what the status or symbolic power it confers upon the owner.

Use Value: the physical value of an object or person for what it can do practically, functionally, or the need it can fulfill.

Culture: the sum of social patterns, traits, and products of a particular time or group of people; practices, habits, customs, beliefs and traditions that become institutions within that time and space, particular to that time and space.

False Consciousness: an ideology that appears of value but which actually serves the interests of those in power, offering the illusion of being part of the “natural order” of things, but they actually disguise and draw one’s attention from socio-economic conditions that limit, oppress, and deny the potential of the individual. [Friedrich Engels, “Letter to Mehring” (1893)].

Hegemony: the ‘spontaneous consent’ given by the masses to the imposed, formalized social practices of the dominant fundamental power, convincing the less powerful these behaviors are for their own good. [Antonio Gramsci, Prison Notebooks (c. 1927-35)]

Identity Politics: ideological formations that typically aim to secure the political freedom of a specific marginalized constituency within its larger context through assertion of power, reclamation of distinctive characteristics, and appropriation of signifiers that have been used to oppress or demean.

Interpellation: a process by which ideology constitutes subjected identity through institutions, discourses, and other social, cultural and familial factors:

situation precedes subject, ‘hailing’ the subject who is ‘always-already interpellated’

identities are produced by social forces rather than independent agency, constituted in Ideological State Apparatuses (schools, churches, families, and so on) and Repressive State Apparatuses (government, courts, police force, military). [Louis Althusser, “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses” (1971)].

Othering: perceiving/treating a person or group of people as intrinsically different from and alien to oneself.

Paired Identities: in feminist critical theory, stereotypical good/bad roles: madonna/whore, angel/bitch, virgin/slut that appear routinely in patriarchal cultural constructs, denying to women a range of humanity.

Patriarchy: a term used by feminist critics who consider Western society to be “father-ruled,” that is, dominated and generally controlled by men upholding and promoting masculine “values” that, in turn, maintain men in positions of power.

Political Economy: recognition of political institutions, the political environment, and the economic system produce and distribute media for ideological aims and commercial profit.

Semiotics: the study of signs and sign systems and the way meaning is derived and determined from them on the part of the interpreter. [Charles Sanders Peirce, “Questions Concerning Certain Capacities Claimed for Man” (1868)]

Symbol: a sign that stands for or suggests something larger or more complex, usually a tangible item that represents an abstraction.


Base: economics and acts of consumptive production, such as the means of production and the divisions of labor in employer-employee relations, that serve as support for the superstructure of social, political and ideological realities. [Karl Marx, A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy (1859)]

Conspicuous Consumption: the act of owning or displaying goods solely for their exchange value or sign-exchange value, or making overt charitable contributions, thus demonstrating social prestige through the display of superior socio-economic status. [Thorstein Veblen, The Theory of the Leisure Class: An Economic Study in the Evolution of Institutions (1899)]

Historical Conditions: ideological conditions that are a result of economic (material) circumstances which in turn shape the direction of those economic conditions; the writing of a literary text, for instance is in some part shaped by the events and circumstances that become enveloped in the narrative.

Material Conditions: economic conditions that give rise to ideological, social and political (historical) circumstances which in turn shape those socio-, historico-, and ideological conditions; while historical conditions are largely conceptual, material circumstances are concrete—that is, they are practical, pragmatic, and substantial elements which are part of everyday life, such as one’s house, money, car, and so on.

Political Unconscious: the concept that all texts are destabilized by their historical reality—that is, the text is a socially symbolic act, given its reliance on an historical language and material conditions that are, themselves, ideological acts of false consciousness. [Frederic Jameson, The Political Unconscious: Narrative as Socially Symbolic Act (1981)]

Superstructure: the social, political, and ideological realities that shape structures of power, cultural norms and expectations, and thus our identities, and which are founded upon the base, or economics. [Karl Marx, A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy (1859)]


Ahistorical: a web-like, subjective and fragmented way of perceiving history as an expression or representation of forces on narrative-making as opposed to traditional linear understandings of history.

Artifacts: elements of discourse from a particular period that serve to supplement and subvert the master narrative.

Episteme: the underlying conditions of truth that define how a particular age views the world, thereby developing an accepted discourse that produces knowledge within a particular time and place. [Michel Foucault, The Order of Things (1966)]

Historical: reference to the linear, objective and progressive perspective of the way in which time is traditionally thought to unfold, in contrast to contemporary ahistorical perspectives of space and time.

Historical Afterlife: the continual ruination and reconfiguration of the past within the present, the meaning of any historical artifact or incident being an ongoing reconstitution and appropriation. [Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” (1935)]

Master Narrative: a grand narrative told from a single cultural point-of-view which presumes to offer the only legitimate version of history, thus discounting marginalized versions that defy and subvert the privileged version. [Jean-François Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge (1979)]

Thick Description: the accumulation of seemingly insignificant details, conceptual structures, and meanings, as well as commentary and interpretations, that reveal a culture. [Clifford Geertz, Thick Description: Toward an Interpretive Theory of Culture (1973)]