Denouement in Literature: Definition & Examples

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  • 0:01 What Is Denouement?
  • 0:13 Climax Defined
  • 1:08 Open Ending Defined
  • 1:16 Classic Literary Examples
  • 4:41 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Ann Casano

Ann has taught university level Film classes and has a Master's Degree in Cinema Studies.

What happens in a story after the big climax? In this lesson, we will take a look at the 'denouement,' the part of the narrative that wraps up all the loose ends.

What Is Denouement

Denouement is from the French word denouer, which means to untie. In literature, the denouement is simply the very end of the story. It should be noted that the denouement is different from the climax.

Consider how movies are structured. The climax is when the guy finally gets the girl or the car chase that catches the villain. The denouement, on the other hand, is the short scene after the climax where things get clarified and all the loose ends are tied up.

Think about a Sherlock Holmes novel or any other mystery story. During the climax, Holmes catches the culprit, usually by outwitting him in some way.

The denouement is the closing chapter or scene where Holmes explains to Watson or the police exactly how he figured out who the culprit was and how he came to those conclusions. The denouement unravels the mystery and provides any necessary pieces of missing information.

Sherlock Holmes Ties Up Loose Ends
Holmes

A denouement is commonly found in all forms of storytelling like novels and films; however, not every story will have one. This is especially true if a story ends without all questions being answered.

This is called an open ending and can possibly lead to a sequel. It can also be used when the author wants the reader to draw their own conclusions.

Classic Literary Examples

Here are a few classic literary examples with a denouement:

Romeo and Juliet (1597)

Romeo and Juliet tells the classic tragic tale of two young star-crossed lovers. Their relationship is doomed from the start because of their families' hatred of each other.

We all know how the tragedy ends. Romeo thinks Juliet is dead and kills himself. But Juliet is only faking her death. When she awakes and sees that Romeo has killed himself, she stabs herself to death as well. Those events are the climax of the story.

However, the denouement occurs afterwards, when the Montagues and the Capulets are all at the tomb and see that their beloved children have both committed suicide. The heads of the family know that their bitter feud must end and agree to stop their rivalry to avoid further tragedy.

Capulet and Montague Agree to End the Feud
Shakespeare

The Great Gatsby (1925)

The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald's well-known novel tells the tale of a naïve man named Nick who moves to New York for business. Nick's neighbor, Jay Gatsby, is a wealthy man who throws lavish parties every Saturday night for the single purpose of getting the attention of his old flame Daisy.

Daisy also happens to be Nick's cousin. She is also married to a man named Tom who is having an affair with Myrtle.

Lavish Gatsby Parties
Gatsby

Gatsby and Daisy eventually rekindle their love affair. But tragedy ensues when Daisy, who is driving Gatsby's car, collides into Myrtle's car and kills her.

The climax of the story takes place when Gatsby decides to take the blame for the accident. Myrtle's husband George goes to Gatsby's mansion and shoots him, and then kills himself.

The denouement of The Great Gatsby occurs when Nick moves back to Minnesota to get away from what he considers the moral emptiness of the rich.

For all their wealth and lavish parties, everyone in Gatsby's circle was morally bankrupt. Nick leaves New York with a sense that the American dream is nothing more than the empty pursuit riches which inevitably leads to dishonesty and corruption.

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