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Examples of Denouement in Literature


One of the most satisfying aspects of a story is the resolution you experience at the end, right after the climax. This moment, when the main character has an epiphany and faces the world with a new outlook, is called the denouement. The word is French and means an untying, or unraveling of the misunderstandings in a work of literature. It is often referred to as the tying up of loose ends.

Charlotte's Web

This classic children's novel by E.B. White, "Charlotte's Web," tells of Wilbur, the pig who wins first prize at the county fair to save himself from being slaughtered and turned into bacon for the farmer, Mr. Zuckerman's daily breakfast. Wilbur can't do it on his own, though. Charlotte, the spider who lives in the doorway of the barn, spins webs with words woven in to them that announce Wilbur's admirable qualities, and Wilbur ends up winning the blue ribbon. Afterward, however, he notices that Charlotte has created her egg sac, and will die soon. The denouement occurs when Wilbur learns that while he saved his own life, death is inevitable, and he adapts to this new world, and greets Charlotte's children as they emerge from the egg sac.

A Christmas Carol

Charles Dickens' holiday masterpiece is split into five chapters, which in the book are referred to as staves. The first stave is dedicated to the opening scene with Marley's ghost, and the following three staves tell of Ebenezer Scrooge's encounters with each of the three spirits. The fifth stave relates the denouement, the events that take place after the Ghost of Christmas Future has left Scrooge a changed man who has vowed to live a more generous and compassionate life. In this stave, Scrooge rejoices in his new outlook on life, and sets out to make amends with his past. In the final paragraph, the narrator addresses the audience directly, and explains that Scrooge lived as a good man for the rest of his days.

Death of a Salesman

"Death of a Salesman" is a tragic play written by Arthur Miller in 1949. The protagonist, Willy Loman, struggles with the illusion of the American dream as he realizes that his life has not turned out like he had planned. At the climax of the play, after an argument with Biff in which Biff has called out Willy's delusional view of the family's lot in life, Willy decides to kill himself in a car wreck so the family can collect his life insurance payout. The denouement is his funeral, attended only by his wife, two sons and the neighbor, Charlie. The boys look toward the challenging future, and Linda, Willy's widow, breaks down.

The Comedy of Errors

Shakespeare's "The Comedy of Errors" is a farce, and a comedy of mistaken identity in which two pairs of identical twins -- one pair of boys named Antipholus and their servants, each named Dromio -- separated at an early age by a shipwreck, end up in the same place and cause accidental mishaps for one another. The great playwright ties up all loose ends nicely in the denouement, during which the two pairs of twins finally encounter each other and realize the source of the shenanigans, and rejoice. The father of the Antipholus twins is also reunited with his long-lost wife, the Abbess, and the family exits the stage in a merry flock, with the Dromios -- the twin fools -- arm in arm.

About the Author

Christopher Cascio is a memoirist and holds a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing and literature from Southampton Arts at Stony Brook Southampton, and a Bachelor of Arts in English with an emphasis in the rhetoric of fiction from Pennsylvania State University. His literary work has appeared in "The Southampton Review," "Feathertale," "Kalliope" and "The Rose and Thorn Journal."

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