Happy endings are common in literature and they end the story with a positive resolution or outcome. I believe that happy endings are also predictable in the sense that you can make the assumption that the protagonists will have everything work out in their favor before reaching the end of the story. However, not all endings are happy or have a favorable outcome, they will sometimes end in a tragedy or a situation that is not resolved. My thoughts as to why less-than-happy endings often occur in great literature are that it adds a touch of reality, the hero doesn’t always win, or the situation doesn’t always come out positive. I also think that the value of a less-than-happy ending is worth more than a happy one because it sticks more. Tragic endings are ones that are hard to forget, and I feel that writers will sometimes purposely make the ending tragic so it sparks more emotion and will be a memorable event. A tragic ending will also create debates as to why it had to end that way and can also allow the reader to create new scenarios as to how the story could have ended. But most importantly, a tragic ending will oftentimes teach a valuable lesson.
For this discussion, I will draw examples from The Epic of Gilgamesh and Antigone and discuss the possible reasons for their tragic endings. In The Epic of Gilgamesh, the reader learns about the protagonist, Gilgamesh, and his journey to seek immortality. Throughout the story, we see the journeys and hardships Gilgamesh had to face, and finally, we see Gilgamesh achieve immortality, almost. Even though Gilgamesh had fought and searched for immortality, and even lost his best friend Enkidu, the end result was that he did not receive his gift and the story concludes with him living as a mortal being. This sad ending brings a sense of reality which is that if you cannot appreciate what you have then you will never appreciate the better things in life. I believe that it was on purpose that Gilgamesh does not achieve immortality, because it helps Gilgamesh learn the value of life as his days are dwindling down. The ending for The Epic of Gilgamesh is a lesson almost. It seemed Gilgamesh did not appreciate what he had and was greedy, so the ending was purposely written to enforce this moral lesson. This moral teaching can be used in the real world today, for example, let’s say a person wants a better car, one that has luxurious features and advanced technology. The current vehicle that the person has is very basic but gets the job is done which is to get from point A to point B with no problems. If the person does not appreciate the current vehicle they own, how will they ever appreciate the new car they want? Because once the person receives that vehicle, they will always want a better one. The Epic of Gilgamesh has a purposely tragic ending to teach a valuable lesson, which is to appreciate what you already have.
In the ending for Antigone, we see that Kreon loses his niece, his son, and his wife, because of his decision to not bury Polynices. This result is a very tragic ending because the ones he cared for all die a tragic death, but this was preventable. Kreon did not have to lose his beloved family members because he had a choice, whether to follow the law and not bury Polynices or disregard the law and put his family’s needs first and bury Polynices. I believe that this tragic ending serves a purpose and that is to convey certain moral lessons. The first lesson could be that in some cases the law is not always the right thing and that sometimes the law has to be broken. This is a far-fetched thought; however, I will prove this moral lesson with an example. Imagine that you are in a parking lot on a hot summer’s day, and you see a dog that is in a car, the car is turned off, and it's clear that the dog needs to be let out or it will die of heat. In this situation you have a choice, break the law and shatter the window to rescue the dog, or follow the law and let the dog die. It's up to you to decide but it's clear that one ending is less tragic than the other. Another lesson that can be taken from Antigone is that your public image is not worth sacrificing your life or others. Kreon did not want to bury Polynices for a number of reasons, and one of those was he would ruin his reputation. If Kreon buried Polynices the people would see him as a weak ruler, and they would potentially not trust him. It's clear that Kreon cared what the people thought and, in the end, resulted keeping his reputation but losing his beloved ones. The last moral lesson that can be taken out of Antigone is that in some cases it's better to suffer a minimal loss than risk a heavier loss. If Kreon buried Polynices, his reputation would be damaged, but his family would still be alive. However, Kreon put his family at risk and decided not to bury Polynices, as a result, he suffered more. The lesson learned here is that in a situation where you will be losing something, it’s important to evaluate which outcome will be worse and then act accordingly. Kreon had choices and each one had consequences. If He were to evaluate each choice it would be clear to him that burying Polynices would have been the better option for his situation, this lesson could easily be used in daily life. For example, if a child does something their parents restrict them from doing, like playing video games at night, and their parents find out, it’s better for the child to tell the truth instead of a lie because even though the child will be punished it won't be as severe as the child telling a lie and the parents finding out.
In conclusion, some of the great works of literature will have less than happy endings for various reasons, and one of those could be to convey a lesson of some sort. It is more powerful to use a tragic ending to convey an important lesson than use a happy ending. Because the ending can provide a clear example as to what would happen if you do not follow it. The Epic of Gilgamesh teaches readers to value the things that they already have, and Antigone teaches readers to evaluate their options and choose the one that is least damaging to their life.