10 Shocking Final Lines From Classic Books
Sometimes a really good ending can save an entire book. I felt that way about Kate Atkinson’s A God in Ruins, which I only finished due to my overwhelming allegiance to Life After Life , a book that gets so much better every time I read it. Atkinson’s followup felt slow to me, confusing in its purpose, until I reached the end, everything clicked gloriously into place, and I felt as though I had gotten it. Sure, it's rather obvious that endings are what make a book; while the journey may be great, the destination is pretty much what we’re shooting for, right?
There are some book endings, however, that sing. It’s not just about the beautiful prose (although that helps). It’s about the surprising twists, the devastating blows, and the shocking final words that have the potential to totally ruin or make your day. To celebrate these shocking endings, I’ve compiled a list of 10 final lines of novels that have resonated with me. I hope that you’ve properly prepared yourself for spoilers. Given that this is an article about final lines, a couple of things are most likely going to be revealed. Tread lightly!
1. "He loved Big Brother."
— George Orwell, 1984
Definitely one of the most iconic final lines in modern literature, it's all the more shocking given the fact that Winston Smith spent so much of the book fighting against the nefarious government known as Big Brother, only to have all of his independent thought and feeling stripped away. It's terribly bleak, don't you think?
2. "And you say 'Just a moment, I've almost finished If on a winter's night a traveler by Italo Calvino."
— Italo Calvino, If on a winter's night a traveler
In all honesty, this entire book is relatively shocking, given the fact that it's all about your experience (or your experience in the eyes of the author) reading such an incredibly meta postmodern work.
3. "'Yes,' I said. 'Isn't it pretty to think so?'"
— Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises
A truly bittersweet moment between protagonist Jake and his love, Lady Brett Ashley. After spending the entire book desperately longing for each other, the reader may believe that they are finally going to get their due, only to be greeted with this wistful final line, which implies that while it's a nice thought, it most likely won't happen.
4. "And he couldn't do it. He could not fucking die. How could he leave? How could he go? Everything he hated was here."
— Philip Roth, Sabbath's Theater
After spending 400+ pages in the depraved company of Mickey Sabbath, a man who constantly dreamed of suicide and the release of death, it's tremendously shocking to read his second thoughts after finally being granted his wish.
5. "GOOD GRIEF — IT'S DADDY!"
— Terry Southern and Mason Hoffenberg, Candy
Candy was a shocking book in its time — an erotic novel published in 1958. In the decades after, it became a bit of a cult classic, and with good reason. Following the charmingly naive 18-year-old Candy Christian as man after man attempts to deflower her due to her overwhelming sexual presence, she finally finds her way to the top of a mountain in Calcutta, India, only to run into a dirty pilgrim who seems overwhelmed with lust as well. Written like a punchline to a joke guaranteed to make you roll your eyes, you can guess what happens next from the lines above.
6. "Go, my book, and help destroy the world as it is."
— Russell Banks, Continental Drift
It's surprising whenever an author breaks the fourth wall, and even moreso when that wall is broken in the final few minutes to highlight what the author wants his book to do. Has this epic tale of the recession in the 1980s done what he asked it to do? Either way, that final line resonates.
7. "Tomorrow, I’ll think of some way to get him back. After all, tomorrow is another day."
— Margaret Mitchell, Gone With the Wind
Given the fact that these are words that Scarlett O'Hara uses throughout the book, they might not seem very shocking. However, these are the last lines of the book, which implies that at heart, Scarlett hasn't changed a bit from the moment she was first found sitting on her porch at Tara. While she might have realized (after an untold number of pages) that Rhett Butler is truly the one for her, she still managed to make it through a war, a recession, and so much death to come out the other side completely the same.
8. "... 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
Allow me to be honest here: This final line is truly shocking due to the fact that it describes a woman's orgasm from her point of view. It's definitely surprising that this was written in 1922, but anyone who has read Joyce's love letters already know that this author absolutely knew what was up.
9. "Are there any questions?"
— Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid's Tale
Not precisely shocking on its own, but after spending the entirety of The Handmaid's Tale following the journey of Offred, a woman who was essentially sold into sexual slavery after the birthrate drops, it's shocking to discover that the entire story was simply an ancient manuscript being read in the future. Do we ever find out if Offred finds peace? Nope.
10. "The knife came down, missing him by inches, and he took off."
— Joseph Heller, Catch-22
Catch-22 is a cynical look into the insanity that came with being a fighter pilot during World War II, following the journey of a pilot named Yossarian, who is desperately attempting to get taken off of active flight duty. However, this book does not end with our hero finally getting what he wants. Instead, readers were shocked when the story ended right in the middle of the action ... how very like Yossarian.