Sad Does Not Equal Good

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Ernest Hemingway (damn his eyes) once wrote a six word story that he claimed was one of his best works:

“For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”

And it just makes me want to kick in Hemingway’s teeth. Not that this is unusual; I frequently want to kick in Hemingway’s teeth. But this one especially so. Hemingway clearly meant for the untold story to be the death of an infant; an infant who was wanted, anticipated, and lost, in whatever manner. In “fine literature,” the most revered stories are usually the ones that are achingly sad, with tragedy and loss, irreparable damage, nightmare fuel for the ages. The kid’s dog or horse or whatever always dies. (Thank you “Old Yeller”, “Where the Red Fern Grows”, “Bridge to Terabithia” and “The Red Goddamn Pony”. Fuck you guys.) And I have to ask … WHY??? Why is a terrible thing more worthy and revered in storytelling than a joyful thing? Is it because we can imagine the author as a suffering figure in turn? Perhaps it’s easier to get an emotional reaction out of the reader with tragedy than with joy? It feels like a cheap thrill to me, like using rape to give a female character “depth,” or a jump-scare in a horror movie. I don’t think you have to have tragedy to have a great story. In fact, it is MORE DIFFICULT to tell a story of joy and love and hope in the face of the reality of the world than it is to tell a story of tragedy, because those stories are usually steeped in the normal lives of everyday people.

So to heck with jump scares and cheap tricks and tragic tropes. I would rather write (and read) stories with hope, and love. We are only here for a little while, and I would rather give the world stories that will improve people’s lives, if only for a little while. There’s a place for sadness in stories, of course. It’d be absurd to say otherwise. Same with rage and hate and confusion and despair. But our literary tradition places an undue weight of respect upon negative emotions and tragic stories. I just wish the scales balanced a little more towards joy.

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