As readers, we tend to have an obsession with “lasts.” Characters’ last days, last interactions, and last words stand out starkly in our minds when we remember or reread our favorite books.
The Shakespeareans among us, for example, are most likely intimately familiar with Hamlet’s last words (“The rest is silence.”), while the classicists can recall Captain Ahab’s “Thus, I give up the spear!” from Melville’s Moby Dick with perfect lucidity.
Where do the author’s final words fit into all of this? The last sentence of any given piece of literature has the ability to confirm, alter, or even transform our perception of the work as a whole. Although well-known sentences are famous for a reason, it is important to avoid the tiresome cycle in which the same final sentences are repeated over and over. As such, and with summer fast approaching, here are seventeen incredible concluding literary sentences that draw from the famous as well as the lesser known:
*Disclaimer: you can’t read this list without expecting any spoilers. We warned you.
- “He knew what those jubilant crowds did not know but could have learned from books: that the plague bacillus never dies or disappears for good; that it can lie dormant for years and years in furniture and linen-chests; that it bides its time in bedrooms, cellars, trunks, and bookshelves; and that perhaps the day would come when, for the bane and the enlightening of men, it would rouse up its rats again and send them forth to die in a happy city.” –Albert Camus (Trans. Stuart Gilbert), The Plague (1947)
- “He is the last private man, the dream we no longer admit.” –Joan Didion, “7000 Romaine, Los Angeles 38” (1967)
- “Our hero shrieked and clutched his head. Alas! He had long been expecting this!” –Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Double (1846)
- “It was a fine cry—loud and long—but it had no bottom and it had no top, just circles and circles of sorrow.” –Toni Morrison, Sula (1973)
- “He heard it and sank deeper than sorrow, through torn sobs and cries toward the consummation of his heart’s ultimate need.” –Saul Bellow, Seize the Day (1956)
- “The door closes behind me. In front of me, the cul-de-sac, the city, the country, and an appetite for life and for building as big as the earth itself.” –Marie Cardinal (Trans. Pat Goodheart), The Words to Say It (1975)
- “He was soon borne away by the waves and lost in darkness and distance.” –Mary Shelley, Frankenstein (1818)
- “‘Death is finished,’ he said to himself. ‘It is no more!’ He drew in a breath, stopped in the midst of a sigh, stretched out, and died.” –Leo Tolstoy, Ivan Ilyich (1886)
- “And when he came back to, he was flat on his back on the beach in the freezing sand, and it was raining out of a low sky, and the tide was way out.” –David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest (2006)
- “I lingered round them, under that benign sky; watched the moths fluttering among the heath, and hare-bells; listened to the soft wind breathing through the grass; and wondered how any one could ever imagine unquiet slumbers for the sleepers in that quiet earth.” –Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights (1847)
- “I know myself, but that is all.” –F. Scott Fitzgerald, This Side of Paradise (1920)
- “Underground, the story continued.” –Richard Adams, Watership Down (1972)
- “Yes, I can see her perfectly in this cracked darkness.” –John Green, Paper Towns (2008)
- “Are there any questions?” –Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale (1985)
- “He drew a deep breath. ‘Well, I’m back,’ he said.” –J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King (1955)
- “ ‘Yes,’ I said. ‘Isn’t it pretty to think so?’” –Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises (1926)
- “I’ll think of it all tomorrow, at Tara. I can stand it then. Tomorrow, I’ll think of some way to get him back. After all, tomorrow is another day.” –Margaret Mitchell, Gone With the Wind (1936)