Tuesday, December 06, 2005


OGIC over at About Last Night drew my attention to a wonderful essay entitled "The end. At last." It is about the last lines of novels. The author writes: "The deepest rooted of last lines is the childhood one: "And they all lived happily ever after." Unlike the first line of such stories, "Once upon a time," it isn't just a formula. It's a reassurance that the result the story has achieved will remain in place even now the story-telling has finished. But more than that, it acknowledges what the story was about all along. Folk tales that end like that have, all along, been about happiness and challenges to it; the subject of the story is there in its last line....But there are two questions at stake here, in what Frank Kermode called "the sense of an ending". One is how far a novelist believes in the end of a story, either through perfect happiness or complete catastrophe. The other is just the sense of a cadence; the sort of thing that sounds final, even if the novel's concerns are provisional, incomplete." It got me to thinking about the last lines of plays, which seem to me to be even more important than the last lines of novels. Here are a couple off the top of my head:

"Help!" -- The Good Woman of Setzuan
"Yes, let's go." (They do not move.) -- Waiting for Godot
"There is now, in my mouth, this sharp chain. And it never comes out." -- Equus

What last lines do you find particularly effective?


George Hunka said...

"Kiss me."--The Homecoming
"We'll rest. I know we will."--Uncle Vanya
"Sometimes it works ..."--The Gods Are Pounding My Head!

Freeman said...

I think Hunka included "The Gods Are Pounding My Head" just to bait me.

"I wouldn't want them back, not with the fire in me now. No, I wouldn't want them back." - Krapp's Last Tape

Anonymous said...


"Oh, poor, poor, bears!"--Look Back in Anger

"Good night, friends. If we should bump into one another, recognize me."--A Man for All Seasons

"Harold Loomis, you shining! You shining like new money!"--Joe Turner's Come and Gone

P'tit Boo said...

"Well well, let's get on with it." No Exit
"That's it ! Precisely !" The Lady from the Sea
"Wouldn't it be funny if that was true ?" Cat on a Hot Tin Roof