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Aside from the (extremely) odd setting, Happy Days could just about take place in any old suburban neighborhood from the 1960's. Stuck in a loveless marriage, Winnie tries to make the best of it by maintaining a strict but meaningless routine and oodles of positive thinking. Not one to give up on her marriage, she makes sure to keep "well preserved" (1.1) and remember that she has "so much to be thankful for" (1.1).
Her morning routine—which consists of brushing her teeth, taking her vitamins, applying lipstick, and ensuring that her husband is wearing the appropriate amount of clothing, "slip on your drawers, dear, before you get singed" (1.1)—contributes to another happy day in Winnie's life.
In order to stave away the boredom of their unfulfilled days, Winnie, ever the caring housewife, spends an unusually large amount of time attempting to engage Willie in pointless small talk:
The hair on your head, Willie, what would you say speaking of the hair on your head, them or it? (1.7)
Aside from having someone to talk to, Willie also reassures Winnie of her existence. In fact, her dependence on Willie is at times frightening. For example, when Winnie says, "don't go off on me again now dear will you please, I may need you" (1.1) we wonder how much Winnie not only desires but needs Willie's acknowledgment and company. For Winnie, "just to know you are there within hearing and conceivably on the semi-alert is…. er… paradise enow" (1.29). It seems like Winnie believes that without Willie, she ceases to exist; she derives meaning and purpose in life from Willie.
We can pretty much say that Winnie is in a marriage of one. And yet, she strives to make her marriage work. She still cares about her husband (even if she is the one to hurt him with a parasol), she still attempts to make small talk (which is a lot more than can be said for Willie), and for all intents and purposes acts as if she still loves him by showing a concern for his well-being.
Sadly for Winnie, her dedication to the marriage goes unnoticed as Willie spends most of his time ignoring Winnie, ogling dirty postcards, or reading trivial bits of news from the paper.
How many of us would begin our days by saying, "another heavenly day" (1.1) if we found ourselves in Winnie's position: stuck chest deep on a hot day in a mound of sand, running out of supplies, and with no one to talk to save for a monosyllabic husband? But Winnie, ever the optimist, remains grateful and hopeful that it will be a good day—she's great at cheering herself up.
When things go wrong you can bet that Winnie will look on the bright side of life. And it doesn't take much to cheer Winnie up, just responding to her question makes her go into happiness overdrive:
Oh you are going to talk to me today, this is going to be a happy day! (1.9)
According to Winnie's logic, if things get "no better, no worse" (1.1) but stay the same, then it also means things have not gotten worse. In other words, stasis, the "state or condition in which there is no action or progress," is a good thing. And boy, have we got heaps of stasis in this play.
We've got two words for you, Shmoopers: arrested development. And no, we're not referring to the fabulous TV series, although Buster is a prime example of the meaning of that phrase; we're referring to Winnie's child-like state. Like many children, Winnie lives in a fantasyland, which would be all right by us except she's not a kid anymore. She fails to see the gravity of her situation, and prefers to occupy her day with idle chatter and meaningless actions instead. Instead of facing her current situation she prefers to "laugh […] wild amid severest woe" (1.29).
After all, part of being an adult is taking responsibility, finishing what you start, and Winnie…well, she just doesn't seem to finish anything she begins. In fact, the entire play is a series of interruptions. The big question throughout the play is "Will Winnie dig herself out of her hole?" In order to do that, Winnie must first recognize that there is a problem: she's stuck in a mound of sand. Then she has to actually "do something for a change" (1.31) and get herself out. Unfortunately, since things are "no better, no worse" (1.1), Winnie refuses to exert the extra effort and live to possibly see a happy day.
Winnie is a living, breathing example of what happens if you don't take responsibility for your actions. And yet, we can't help but root for Winnie. She's got a good heart and means well. She's just, well, stuck. Literally. Mentally. Physically. Spiritually. Not a good place to be, dear Shmoopers. All we can say is take off those rose-tinted glasses, Winnie, and face the truth. The question is: will she listen?
Silence—or rather, the lack of silence—is important and always present in this play. It's clear that Winnie sure likes to talk. If we're honest, this play could also be called, "Winnie's Incessant Chattering." But it's about more than that. For instance, why does Winnie need to speak all the time? What is it about silence that scares her? There's something menacing about silence that Winnie hopes to stave off with her words. Ironically, she hints at that idea when she says "words fail, there are times when even they fail" (1.9), which then leads us to wonder: why continue talking if that's the case?
Maybe we're being too hard on the poor woman. Maybe she just wants to be heard. She does say to Willie that all she wants is "to know you are there within hearing and conceivably on the semi-alert" (1.29). The thing is, Winnie's talking reaches a point where it replaces her actually doing anything. Sure, talking is good but not when it replaces doing. And we don't know about you, but we think that Winnie's gotten to the point where she needs to stop talking and start doing something, like start digging.