Most people love a good satisfying happy ending. There are also many popular and well-loved stories out there that don’t end so well, yet many of us love them anyway. Why is it that some of us are drawn to sad stories? It might mean that you enjoy being emotionally challenged; you like to relate to others and you’re not afraid to let your mind travel to deeper places.
There is value in sad stories and sad endings. No, their purpose isn’t to make you feel depressed or to make you pity the author who wrote them – if you feel that way then you missed the point behind the writing.
I think a well-written sad ending can be very powerful. Why? It is soaked with humanity. It makes us think, feel, and empathize with others. It takes us out of our own life and draws us to the window of another’s struggles. Often, a sad ending can bring you a sense of relief. You think: “Wow after watching that I’m really happy about my life now!”
A sad ending can also evoke emotions that make you think deeper. It lets you put yourself in someone else’s shoes. If a story really affects you, I think it can make you a kinder and more thoughtful person. Those books that show the plight of certain people (or animals) can even influence how you behave moving forward – you might think twice before supporting a big corporation or even how you talk about other people. It’s amazing how powerful stories can be – happy and sad – yet there’s something particularly strong about an ending that makes your heart ache.
When you think about the ending of a story like The Book Thief or The Boy In The Striped Pajamas, you imagine the cruelty some people have experienced because of hate, prejudice, violence, etc. Yes, the outcome is unspeakably sad and no one enjoys thinking about such terrible things, but it does make you feel for others and remember how important it is to see everyone as equal. The message is loud and clear: If you support any movement that starts with prejudice, children will die in the streets; innocent people will face an early death.
The ending will of this movie will break your heart, yet the point it brings home will make you never want to entertain prejudice again. What really gets the audience is that all of this really happened in the past … and the world still allows things like this to happen today. Sometimes it takes a sad ending to remind us.
Alongside the sad ending is a bittersweet ending. I predict that most people probably prefer the ending that has a decent blend of happy and sad. The ending of The Butterfly Effect is a great example of a bittersweet ending (**Spoiler alert** if you’ve never seen it and you’re interested, skip past the rest of this paragraph and read after the video clip) – the main character went back in time to scare the girl he loves away from him. He did this so they could be released from the terrible outcomes that came from them being together. This is very sad, but at the end of the movie, they pass by one another on the sidewalk and they’re both successful professionals. He stops to stare at her in shock – and she’s striding confidently and put together. It’s so sad that they couldn’t be together in the end, but his sacrifice saved her from the other sad endings she always fell into. I thought this was so beautiful. (Of course, in reality, we can’t go back in time to change things that we think we messed up, but maybe the ending hints that we can still make things in the present time. Sometimes things can be mended and we can right our wrongs.)
We all need happy endings, too. Life has many moments of joy and I believe everyone deserves happiness. Yet some people (Such as those subject to war, poverty, addiction, abuse, etc.) don’t always get happy endings. All of us will experience sadness at some point in our lives. Sad stories can make us feel heard. They remind us that other people go through hard times, too, and many people have it so much worse than we do.
Stories that illustrate the plight of other people/groups aren’t intended to make us feel guilty, but to make us grateful for our fortunes and to think more about the world. Stories can be amazing at spreading awareness and they can help shape entire movements, such as Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The ending of the book is sad, but it made people not only think about the horrors of slavery, but to want better endings for people who were forced into it. It’s said that the book actually helped get the ball rolling for abolishing slavery (at the expense of many lives during the Civil War, sadly).
I believe you can stop prejudice and hate when the right emotions are evoked. Sometimes, sad stories can be the current that brings about change.