Closing lines are just as important as opening lines, in my opinion, because this is the final chance for the author to leave an impression on the reader. You can have a phenomenal book but if the ending is garbage, your readers will be disappointed and every time they talk about the book, they’re likely to say something like, “It was good, but the ending was disappointing.” It’s like eating a fabulous meal and then finding a hair in the last bite. Sure, the rest of the food was great, but all you’ll ever talk about was the hair. Continuing on the theme of my last post, I wanted to take a moment to celebrate some of my favorite closing lines in literature. You know, the ones without the hair.
When one thinks about great closing lines in literature, this particular quote is mentioned more than most. And with good reason–it’s both beautiful and tragic. Nick is reflecting on his time with Gatsby after being consumed by his own alcoholism and depression. He realizes that as people we try to push forward in our lives but we are constantly pushed back into the past by our memories, a statement that is sad and undeniably true.
“The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.”
—George Orwell, Animal Farm
Orwell’s famous allegorical novella is brilliant in so many ways, both as political commentary and as an engaging story that invests the reader in the animals on the farm. Perhaps its best component is the way in which it demonstrates how absolute power corrupts absolutely and, as the great philosopher Harvey Dent once said, “You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.” The final line of Animal Farm represents this so beautifully in the way the pigs and the humans become indistinguishable from one another as the pigs become what they hated at the start of the rebellion.
Much like The Great Gatsby, this final line of Annie Proulx’s Brokeback Mountain is heartbreaking. It echoes an earlier sentiment Ennis tells Jack after they’re finally reunited four years after their first summer together on Brokeback Mountain. Jack wants to find a way to create a life with Ennis, but Ennis is scared. Ennis is willing to accept his life as it is, but Jack wants something more. Then, at the end of the story, Ennis is left alone with his memories of Jack and Ennis is once again stuck in a situation he doesn’t want, but he can’t change it. The feeling of a lost love is so universal and beautiful and devastating and the reader is left only with Ennis’s pain.
“How wonderful the flavor, the aroma of her kitchen, her stories as she prepared the meal, her Christmas Rolls! I don’t know why mine never turn out like hers, or why my tears flow so freely when I prepare them – perhaps I am as sensitive to onions as Tita, my great-aunt, who will go on living as long as there is someone who cooks her recipes.”
—Laura Esquivel, Like Water for Chocolate
For a less tragic last line, I love Laura Esquivel’s Like Water for Chocolate. There is something beautiful about how even if someone is gone, they can live on in the love we have for them and the legacy they leave behind. Such is the case with Tita, who continues to live on through her recipes that continue on through the generations of the family. There’s still a sense of loss, like the other closing lines I’ve discussed in this post, but this time it’s more of a beautiful remembrance rather than a painful ache for what once was.
“A LAST NOTE FROM YOUR NARRATOR. I am haunted by humans.”
—Markus Zusak, The Book Thief
I think I connect to this closing line because even as a self-proclaimed introvert who hides from having to interact with humans more than I have to (I’m clearly well suited to be a writer), it’s true that what we remember most are people. Whether they are alive or dead, humans remain ghosts in our minds, continually haunting us with what they did or did not do. This seems especially relevant for this novel which deals with the Nazis in World War II and Liesel’s attempt to save books from destruction at their hands. People are made up the stories they tell and the stories they hear; without them, what is there?
Because I apparently can’t help myself, we’re going to end on a depressing note. I really should’ve finished this list with the quote from Like Water for Chocolate, but it also seems fitting that I should end with something sad as most of the closing lines I’ve chosen are depressing. The final line of The Good Earth is particularly sad because unlike Like Water for Chocolate, there will be no enduring legacy for future generations. Wang Lung spent his entire adult life focusing on his land and riding the rise and fall of his fortunes. Above all else in his life, he has loved this land and these final lines tell the reader that Wang Lung’s sons will sell off the land and everything their father fought for will fade away.
What are your favorite closing lines in literature that I didn’t include (maybe a happy one I should’ve mentioned)? Let me know in the comments!
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