Sunday, May 07, 2006

 

A Justification for an UNhappy Ending

The “happy ending” is the ending of a novel or story, which leaves the reader satisfied, content, or, at risk of being tautological, happy. At the end of the Kite Runner I must say I was not satisfied, I was not content, and I was absolutely not happy. In light of the trauma this book exposes us to, I ask if the best ending we can hope for is not happy, but merely not quite as bad as what existed before. I have a problem with calling the end of the Kite Runner happy, as I was not left feeling a positive emotion. In fact, I was sad. I was sad from the page where Amir admitted to the reader that he would purposely make Hassan, his most loyal and loving companion, feel stupid for the sole purpose of proving his superiority. “My favorite part of reading to Hassan was when we came across a big word that he didn’t know. I’d tease him, expose his ignorance” (28). And my sadness didn’t waver throughout the trauma that ensued. But my sadness doesn't mean I wanted a happy ending.
Though I am generally 'ever-the-optimistic' reader (as I have found happiness in all the conclusions of the novels before this) I cannot be happy. And yet, I did not hate this novel. I loved this novel and found the ending wholly appropriate. This juxtaposition of love for the novel and sadness of the story speaks loudly to what I believe is Hosseini’s point: that stories are not always happy, and they often do not end well, but they are nonetheless valuable.
A good ending is not necessarily a happy ending. I would, in fact, argue that sometimes a happy ending is not a good ending. In light of this novel, a happy ending would stick out as a sore thumb. For the sake of story continuity, happiness simply wasn’t in the cards for the ending of this novel. In class it was noted that the Victorian ‘not so happenstance coincidence’ elements of this novel seem already Disney-like. And yet even the saddest ending in a Disney movie (I’m going to go with Dumbo, feel free to disagree :) ) still holds more hope than the conclusion of The Kite Runner. But what would a happy ending do to further Hosseini's story? A happy ending would not resolve the 300 previous pages of sadness, violence, hurt, and agony, it would maybe just force the reader to ask 'where did that come from?'.
So we, as readers, are left at the end of a traumatically sad novel with only a smile. “It was only a smile, nothing more. It didn’t make everything all right. It didn’t make anything all right. Only a smile. A tiny thing. A leaf in the woods, shaking in the wake of a startled bird’s flight. But I’ll take it. With open arms” (371). Amir confirms my claim, that this smile doesn’t alleviate the distress we have witnessed and they have lived through. But a half smile is all Amir is offered from a boy who has been orphaned by the Taliban, violated by a pedophile, moved to a strange country with a stranger, and stripped of his country, family, and culture.
It seems to me that Hosseini's mission was not to tell the readers a happy story, but to rather tell a real story. And by real I don't mean factual, because not everything real is factual. Real stories are not always happy and they do not always turn out like a Disney movie (save Dumbo, as I still maintain it is incredibly sad). Real stories are based in true emotion. They are based on making mistakes, and fixing mistakes, and being vindictive, and eradicating vindiction. They are based on countries in disarry and children that are distraught and wives back home and old friends that are dying. They rely on the audience's emotions: emotions of sadness, and relief, and more sadness, and disgust and hope. Hosseini's story ties together real feelings and real emotions through a story that is likely not reality.
And real stories don't necessitate happy endings. And happy endings can't always follow sad stories. And happy endings can't make everything better... and yet we always look for a happy ending. Because the happy ending leaves the reader with a feeling of satisfaction, with an emotion elevated by positivity. Unless the happy ending doesn't fit the story, that is. Then the emotion the reader is left with is, to be eloquent, "pissed off".

Comments:
I could not agree with you more on the ending of this novel. I think you make a really great point when you say "that stories are not always happy, and they often do not end well, but they are nonetheless valuable."

I'm going to go back to The Remains of the Day and apply your point. Even though Stevens was not left in a happy position at the end of the novel, his progress and self analysis was valuable, in my opinion. Sometimes it is in change and times of trouble where people truly grow the most as individuals.

I really did not like Amir througout the novel, until he went on his Indiana Jones-like mission in Afganistan to rescue Hassan's son. Did anyone else feel this way?
 
Amy,
Thanks for pointing out that "a good ending is not necessarily a happy ending." The most satifying ending is one that fits with the story. Although we may hope for a fairytale ending because of the rather simplified characters that Hosseini has constructed, the events that this novel detail are not exactly congruous with a happy ending. Therefore it is ok that all we get in the end is a brief smile from Sohrab that "didn't make anything alright." I feel that we are less likely to learn anything from a story that magically fixes itself at the end. As many bloggers have pointed out, this is not true to life, and it is therefore not necessary for fiction. With a happy ending, our attention is shifted away from the complicated series of events that lead up to the climax. With one that is appropriate for the circumstances, we are more likely to step back from the novel and look at the story as a whole, which I think is what Hosseini hoped to achieve. At a greater distance, we can see the racist tendencies that consumed the Pashtun culture, the effects that the rule of the Taliban has had on younger cultures, and the strong sense of family that is so important in Afghanistan. Perhaps these are the things that we should be paying attention to at the end of the novel, rather than the plight of one fictious family.
 
I agree that the novel was incredibly sad and the ending is
nowhere near as happy as some of the Victorian novels from
last semester, like Oliver Twist, but compared to the other
things going on in the novel, I think it is kind of happy.
Amir and Sohrab did make it to America despite some pretty
catastrophic odds and Sohrab is beginning to "heal." So,
within the confines of the main characters it is relatively
hopeful, but overall, considering the broader implications
and such, I'd agree, it is unhappy, to say the least. And while sometimes the plot devices were rather cliche, I agree that it was valuable in that it brought more humanization and understanding, as much as is possible, to a conflict that is difficult to fathom.
 
I agree with Amy that this was an appropriate, though definitely not happy, ending. Though I would have enjoyed everyone to be happy and healthy in the end, it would not have fit a book so full of tragedy and traumatic experience. The novel leaves Amir and his wife with a mentally and physically hurt child who will probably never fully recover from all that he has been through. However, the half smile on Sohrab's face leaves some hope that things may get better with time. It is not completely satisfying given "It was only a smile, nothing more" and it does not make it a happy ending, but it's a step in the right direction.

In response to Lisa, I really disliked Amir until he finally took initiative in making up for his lack of loyalty to Hassan by rescuing Sohrab. At the end I had more respect for him.
 
Like all the other commentors, I too agree with almost what everyone has said in this post. It's completely true that every story about a development of a character is valuable and it is only a readers wish that everything will turn out ok for the character because personally, I think it's every human's wish to have a "happily ever after" ending. Throughout this entire book...tragedy after tragedy...i have to admit, I was in disbelief and shock. And because of the shock value, i needed the ending to be a happy one and even if Hosseini decided to end the book tragically (for example if he allowed Sohrab to succeed in "returning to his old life") i would probably have deluded myself into thinking it was STILL a happy ending because Amir finally stood up for something.

I think the happy ending is something every reader wants because subconsciously...we are all searching for our own happy ending and if books don't offer us that, the world would be a very very depressing place.
 
I really like the meta-commentary on the problems of endings here in this post and the comments. If it means anything, these smart responses gave me the happy ending I was looking for with the "Happy Ending Blog Project" -- thanks!
 
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