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Happy Ending or Tragedy Impending? Metafictional Reflection in Love Story


The Basics

The narrator of Love Story flashes back to two key moments in her relationship with a young man she calls Romeo. Three times, the narrator tells him “It’s a love story, baby just say ‘yes,” but she never shares his response. In the final flashback, the narrator is “tired of waiting” and wonders if it has all been in her head. Finally, Romeo proposes, asking her to say yes this time.


Literary Device: Metafiction

In Love Story, the narrator is conscious of her role in a story, and she repeatedly draws the listener’s attention to the “storyness” of her flashbacks. She consistently refers to her own relationship as a “love story.” She also compares it to a fairy tale by saying “You’ll be the prince and I’ll be the princess.” Finally, she compares herself to two literary characters: “Juliet” and Hester Prynne from the Scarlet Letter: “‘Cause you were Romeo / I was a scarlet letter.”


Analysis

Swift’s self-consciously literary Love Story has all the makings of a fairy tale: a balcony, a ball gown, parents standing in the way of young love, and ultimately a proposal. While appearing to celebrate how a relationship between two people is narrativized into a “love story,” postmodernist poet Taylor Swift uses metafiction to subtly critique the genre.


Swift’s allusions to literary fiction fit uncomfortably into her fairy tale. In fact, neither story alluded to is a love story. Romeo & Juliet is a tragedy in which two children get married and then end up committing a totally unnecessary double suicide after Romeo makes things awkward by murdering Juliet’s cousin. In The Scarlet Letter, any “love story” that may have occurred happened well before the novel starts. By the end of the novel, one of the two lovers has been publicly shamed and the other is dead. While love stories traditionally end with a proposal and/or a coupling, these tragedies depict the aftermath. Within her ostensibly happy, romantic love story, Swift embeds allusions to two famous stories that portray what comes next in the worst possible terms: death and public shaming by a bunch of Puritans.


Taylor Swift’s Love Story, is a happy, beautiful anthem that continues to resonate thirteen years later. However, world-wary Swift was self-conscious about the narrative that she crafted. She embedded a critique of Love Story into the song itself by emphasizing that it is just that — a story. Ending the story of the relationship after the proposal is a narrative construct. A real relationship is not that tidy. Although this is the end of the story crafted by Taylor Swift, it is not the end of the relationship. Additionally, Swift does not end her song by reassuring us that they lived happily ever after, the conventional ending of a fairy tale. We are left contemplating how this happy ending fits into the larger narrative arc of real life, with Swift’s overtly romantic story and allusions to tragedies both as possibilities before us.

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