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Climax in Literature: Definition & Examples

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  • 0:35 What is a Climax?
  • 1:05 Examples of Climaxes
  • 2:55 Multiple Climaxes
  • 3:25 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Elizabeth Foster

Elizabeth has been involved with tutoring since high school and has a B.A. in Classics.

Do you know how to identify the climax of a story? Learn what a climax is in literature, with examples from stories you might have read for class or on your own.

What Is a Climax?

You might not know it, but you probably use climaxes in the literary sense all the time. Just think of the way that you tell a story. You don't start off with the most exciting part; that would take all the drama out of it. And besides, without background, it might not even make sense.

Instead, you lay out the background, set the scene, and walk through everything that happened before you finally reach the big reason you're telling the story. The whole time, you're building up to that crucial moment, and the tension of not knowing what's going to happen keeps your audience engaged. And then, when you finally get to the end, it's rewarding for the listener.

That big moment at the end is the climax, the decisive moment in the story that all the action builds up to.

This is often expressed in a diagram called a plot pyramid. In modern stories, the plot pyramid doesn't work perfectly, because a lot of modern literature starts right in the middle of the rising action, and the falling action and denouement are often very short if they're present at all. But most stories still have rising action that leads up to a climax.

Examples of Climaxes

To help you figure it out, let's take an example.

The book Frankenstein by Mary Shelly tells the story of Dr. Victor Frankenstein, a young scientist who creates a nameless monster. The monster escapes from Frankenstein's lab and initially tries to befriend humans, but becomes bitter and angry when they reject him. Finally, he goes back to Frankenstein and asks Frankenstein to make him a wife so he won't have to be alone forever.

Frankenstein initially agrees, but he can't do it. He's so disgusted by the thought of making any more monsters that he destroys his work. In revenge, the monster promises to kill Dr. Frankenstein's fiancée, Elizabeth. That tension hangs over Dr. Frankenstein until the night before his marriage, when he asks his fiancée to stay safely in her bedroom while he patrols the house to keep her safe from the monster. But while he's out, the monster breaks into Elizabeth's bedroom and kills her.

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