Some novels end with a bone-crushing final line that drives the story home. Other novels’ final lines seem to be a simple slice of life, reminding me of Woody Allen movies where the screen goes black and he rolls the credits. Huh? Did we lose a reel? How is the show over? While I don’t think novels need to end with anything akin to the punch line of a joke that–were it missing–the rest of the thing would fall away, I do like something memorable.
When I did first lines several posts ago, I made it a quiz. Well, heck, it’s the weekend, so I’ll just tell you straight out where these gems came from. I think that’s more than fair.
- So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past. –F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
- He loved Big Brother. –George Orwell, 1984
- Before reaching the final line, however, he had already understood that he would never leave that room, for it was foreseen that the city of mirrors (or mirages) would be wiped out by the wind and exiled from the memory of men at the precise moment when Aureliano Babilonia would finish deciphering the parchments, and that everything written on them was unrepeatable since time immemorial and forever more, because races condemned to one hundred years of solitude did not have a second opportunity on earth. –Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years
- Yes, they will trample me underfoot, the numbers marching one two three, four
hundred million five hundred six, reducing me to specks of voiceless dust, just as,
in all good time, they will trample my son who is not my son, and his son who will
not be his, and his who will not be his, until the thousand and first generation, until
a thousand and one midnights have bestowed their terrible gifts and a thousand
and one children have died, because it is the privilege and the curse of midnight’s
children to be both masters and victims of their times, to forsake privacy and be
sucked into the annihilating whirlpool of the multitudes, and to be unable to live or
die in peace. –Salman Rushdie, Midnight’s Children
- 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
- But wherever they go, and whatever happens to them on the way, in that
enchanted place on the top of the Forest, a little boy and his Bear will always be
playing. –A. A. Milne, The House at Pooh Corner
- Go, my book, and help destroy the world as it is.” –Russell Banks, Continental Drift
- But that is another tale, and as I said in the beginning, this is just a story meant to be read in bed in an old house on a rainy night. –John Cheever, Oh What a Paradise It Seems
- Tomorrow, I’ll think of some way to get him back. After all, tomorrow is another day. –Margaret Mitchell, Gone With the Wind
- . . . and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes. –James Joyce, Ulysses
I’m ending with the last line of Ulysses because Joyce is my favorite author and I especially like the way this line brings the story to a very suitable conclusion. We all know the last line of Gone With the Wind. And, even if we don’t remember reading Animal Farm, that ending will make us cringe. Márquez and Rushdie are a bit long-winded, but in both cases, by the time you get to the ends of their stories, you see that these lines are fitting.
If you were writing this post, what last lines would you have included?