And In The End…

So, a month ago, I wrote a post, To Begin at the Beginning, which was about great opening lines (and also, apparently, proof that I love Pat Robertson), and I always meant to follow it up with the obvious corrollary: great closing lines. When I think of my favorite book endings, one of the first ones I think of is the last paragraph of On the Road:

“So in America when the sun goes down and I sit on the old broken-down river pier watching the long, long skies over New Jersey and sense all that raw land that rolls in one unbelievable huge bulge over to the West Coast, and all that road going, all the people dreaming in the immensity of it, and in Iowa I know by now the children must be crying in the land where they let the children cry, and tonight the stars’ll be out, and don’t you know that God is Pooh Bear? the evening star must be drooping and shedding her sparkler dims on the prairie, which is just before the coming of complete night that blesses the earth, darkens all rivers, cups the peaks and folds the final shore in, and nobody, nobody knows what’s going to happen to anybody besides the forlorn rags of growing old, I think of Dean Moriarty, I even think of Old Dean Moriarty the father we never found, I think of Dean Moriarty.”

Despite the fact that I have been out of my “I Heart The Beats” phase for several years now, this piece of writing always gets me just so. I think for a closing line (or paragraph) to be perfect — even if it doesn’t tie the story up in a neat little package — it leaves things well, so that even if I couldn’t have ever seen those exact lines coming (and I shouldn’t be able to), I know after I read them, that the book couldn’t have ended any other way.

A few of my other favorites are:

— “The offing was barred by a black bank of clouds, and the tranquil waterway leading to the uttermost ends of the earth flowed somber under an overcast sky — seemed to lead into the heart of an immense darkness.” (Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness. Hey, just because I am not completely in love with the book doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate the last line.)

— “Ah, Bartleby! Ah, humanity!” (Herman Melville, “Bartleby the Scrivener”)

— “The cars were honking their horns, and I heard the shouts of angry people. It was in such circumstances that Agnes longed to buy a forget-me-not, a single forget-me-not stem; she longed to hold it before her eyes as a last, scarcely visible trace of beauty.” (Milan Kundera, Immortality. Have I ever mentioned that the first time I read this book, I thought it was so perfect that I read this last part about 10 times just because I didn’t want the book to end? It’s true, I did.)

— “And stone among the stones, he returned in the joy of his heart to the truth of the motionless worlds.” (Albert Camus, A Happy Death)

— “It was, at last, real life, with my heart safe and condemned to die of happy love in the joyful agony of any day after my hundredth birthday.” (Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Memories of My Melancholy Whores)

— “The broken flower drooped over Ben’s fist and his eyes were empty and serene again as cornice and facade flowed smoothly once more from left to right, post and tree, window and doorway and signboard each in its ordered place.” (William Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury)

So, those are some of my picks. If you have any favorites, feel free to add them.

14 Responses

  1. Po-tee-weet!”Po-tee-weet!” is

    “Po-tee-weet!” is the last line of Slaughterhouse Five.
    The last scene in Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men made me cry. I loved the last paragraph of Murakami’s Norwegian Wood because it is full of the adrenaline rush of anticipated reciprocal love and would quote it if I had the book.

  2. great concept, JamelahMy
    great concept, Jamelah

    My favorite short story ends – “All this was going on in Josh’s head, with the click of a different gadget to signal each thought.” That’s Bill Ectric’s “The Little Robot.”

    Another great ending is Don Eminizer’s book “Midnight in America.” I won’t give it away since the book is due out in September. But I suggest everybody grab a copy when it’s available.

    Kerouac’s ‘Town and the City’ was very emotional for me. The last few pages I could barely read through the tears.

  3. 186,000 endings per
    186,000 endings per second

    Then there are more and more endings: the sixth, the 53rd, the 131st, the 9,435th ending, endings going faster and faster until the book is having 186,000 endings per second.

    Richard Brautigan “A Confederate General from Big Sur”

  4. I immediately thought of
    I immediately thought of this

    “Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter – tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms further…and one fine morning–
    So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

    The Great Gatsby
    F. Scott Fitzgerald

  5. and by the way, that On the
    and by the way, that On the Road ending, “So in America when the sun goes down…” is one of my all-time favorite endings, too. If you’ve never heard the recording of Kerouac actually reading that…well, you just have to hear it.

  6. ishmael afloatGreat examples
    ishmael afloat

    Great examples so far. And, well, this just proves that Herman Melville is the master of endings because I didn’t have to hesitate for one second to nominate the finale of “Moby Dick” as my favorite ending …

    “Round and round, then, and ever contracting towards the button-like black bubble at the axis of that slowly wheeling circle, like another Ixion I did revolve. Till, gaining that vital centre, the black bubble upward burst; and now, liberated by reason of its cunning spring, and, owing to its great buoyancy, rising with great force, the coffin life-buoy shot lengthwise from the sea, fell over, and floated by my side. Buoyed up by that coffin, for almost one whole day and night, I floated on a soft and dirgelike main. The unharming sharks, they glided by as if with padlocks on their mouths; the savage sea-hawks sailed with sheathed beaks. On the second day, a sail drew near, nearer, and picked me up at last. It was the devious-cruising Rachel, that in her retracing search after her missing children, only found another orphan.”

  7. I love karaoke.Ok lit fans
    I love karaoke.
    Ok lit fans it’s up to you to find whom wrote each!

    ‘ I passed the Grotto again and saw the cross on the top of that hump of rocks, saw some old French Canadian ladies praying step by step on their knees. I found another rose, and put another rose in my hair, and went home. By God’

    This is the day, which down the void abysm
    At the Earth-born’s spell yawns for Heaven’s despotism,
    And Conguest is dragged captive through the deep:
    Love, from its awful throne of patient power

    In the wise heart, from the last giddy hour
    Of dread endurance, from the slippery, steep,
    And narrow verge of crag-like agony, springs
    And folds over the world its healing wings.

    Gentleness, Virtue, Wisdom, and Endurance,
    These are the seals of that most firm assurance
    Which bars the pit over Destruction’s strength;
    And if, with infirm hand, Eternity,
    Mother of many acts and hours, should free
    The serpent that would clasp her with his length;
    These are the spells by which to reassume
    An empire o’er the disentangled doom.

    To suffer woes which Hope thinks infinite;
    To forgive wrongs darker than death or night;
    To defy Power, which seems omnipotent;
    To love, and bear; to hope till Hope creates
    From his own wreck the thing it contemplates;
    Neither to change, nor falter, nor repent;
    This, like thy glory, Titan, is to be
    Good, great and joyous, beautiful and free;
    This is alone Life, Joy, Empire, and Victory.

    And now it’s late, close to the wolfing hour of soul-lack.
    But she knows, lying curled here, behind him, in the darkness
    Of this small room, with the somehow liquid background sounds of Paris,
    that hers has returned, reeled entirely in on its silver thread and warmly socketed.
    She kisses his sleeping back and falls asleep.

    Most of the big shore places were closed now and there were hardly any lights except the shadowy, moving glow of a ferryboat across the Sound. And as the moon rose higher the inessential houses began to melt away until gradually I became aware of the old island here that flowered once for Dutch sailors’ eyes-a fresh, green breast of the new world. It’s vanished trees, the trees that had made way for Gatsby’s house, had once pandered in whispers to the last and greatest of all human dreams; for a transitory enchanted moment man must have held his breath in the presence of this continent, compelled into an aesthetic contemplation he neither understood nor desired, face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to his capacity for wonder.
    And as I sat there, brooding on the old unknown world, I thought of Gatsby’s wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock. He had come a long way to this blue lawn and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it.
    He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night.
    Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter — tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. And one fine morning —-
    So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

    I might go to Canada eventually, but I think I’ll stop along the Columbia on the way. I’d like to check around Portland and hood River and The Dallas to see if there’s any of the guys I used to know back in the village who haven’t drunk themselves goofy. I’d like to see what they’ve been doing since the government tried to buy their right to be Indians. I’ve even heard that some of the tribe have took to building their old ramshackle wood scaffolding all over that big million-dollar hydroelectric dam, and are spearing salmon in the spillway. I’d give something to see that. Mostly, I’d just like to look over the country around the gorge again, just to bring some of it clear in my mind again.
    I been away a long time.

    The Seven Secret Sayings of God

    1)Before the beginining when God created the heavens and the earth, and the earth was without form, and void: and darkness was upon the face of the deep, God said
    I AM THAT. And it is so.

    2) Also, being in eternity which is neither linear nor sequential, where all is nowever, God said, YOU MUST DRAW THE LINE SOMEWHERE. And it was drawn.

    3) But it was no dreary straight line or flat wall, for God then said, HAVE A BALL..
    And there was a ball, in the image whereof all stars and planets came to be formed.

    4) Thereupon God said, THERE ARE TWO SIDES TO EVERYTHING. And there are: the inside and the outside, the dense and the spacious, the right and the wrong, the left and the taken, for, as it is written,
    One shall be taken, and the other left.

    5) And God said, IT MUST BE IN TIME.
    And thereafter it was, is, and will be, for as it is written again, As it was in the beginning is now, and ever shall be, through all ages of ages. Amen.

    6) And forthwith God said, SPACE IT OUT.
    Where upon it came to pass that, beside this and that and now and then, there is also here and there.

    7) And God beheld how firm a foundation this was and said unto himself, GET LOST.
    And there you are.

    Gen. 1.1-2
    Ps. 33.6
    Acts. 14.15

    Ex. 3.14
    Jno. 8.58

    Mat. 24.40-41
    Lit.St. John

    Hymn 564.

  8. You’ve been through allof F.
    You’ve been through all

    of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s books.

    But this is the part that stayed with you:

    “Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter — tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. … And one fine morning —- So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

  9. Billectric –Totally missed
    Billectric —

    Totally missed yours and posted this one myself — yes, this screamed to me, as well!

  10. Most ominousGeorge Orwell,
    Most ominous

    George Orwell, 1984:

    “He loved Big Brother.”

  11. it’s so obviousI didn’t even
    it’s so obvious

    I didn’t even have to think about this one:

    “…and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.”


    Although, now that I AM thinking about it, the “I been away a long time” ending from “Cuckoo’s Nest” (listed above by bluefire) is an absolute killer.

    Also killer, for that matter, are the last few pages of “Underworld.”

    After thinking about it, maybe “Ulysses” isn’t so obvious. But I still stand behind it. I actually cried the first time I read it, and I’m not one to cry at anything, generally.


  12. Farewell to ‘Farewell…'”But
    Farewell to ‘Farewell…’

    “But after I had got them out and shut the door and turned off the light it wasn’t any good. It was like saying good-by to a statue. After awhile I went out and left the hospital and walked back to the hotel in the rain.”

    I’m usually pretty lukewarm when it comes to Hemingway, but I’ve always admired his ability to withhold a seemingly unremarkable detail until just the right moment, then unleashing it with devastating effect.

    I’ll never forget the image of the main character walking alone in the rain at the end of “A Farewell to Arms.” Picture pefect.

  13. A FewThe last line of The
    A Few

    The last line of The Tunnel: “Or lay my mind down by sorrow’s side.”

    And The Recognitions: “He was the only person caught in the collapse, and afterward, most of his work was recovered too, and it is still spoke of, when it is noted, with high regard, though seldom played.”

    And the long last line of The Death of Virgil.

    And The Last Novel’s: “Als ick can.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

What we're up to ...

Litkicks is 26 years old! This website has been on a long and wonderful journey since 1994. We’re relaunching the whole site on a new platform in June 2021, and will have more updates soon. We’ve also been busy producing a couple of podcasts – please check them out.

World BEYOND War: A New Podcast
Lost Music: Exploring Literary Opera

Explore related articles ...