The End

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

Moby-Dick by Herman Melville

Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell


Off the top of my head, I can think of four memorable endings. I can remember them without peeking, which means I must have been impressed by them.

I. The Great Gatsby. It’s lyrical and, yes, romantic, but it hit me the first time I read the book, around age sixteen.

2. Wuthering Heights. Cathy and Heathcliff are both there and not there; the narrator has it both ways.

3. Moby-Dick. A somewhat double ending: first, the ship (of America) sinks, taking all down with it, including the flag. Second, the telling survival of Ishmael, which certainly echoes the messengers in the Book of Job. (“And I only am escaped alone to tell thee.”) Made me think hard about narrators in tragedies—who is to tell the tale?

4. The double ending of Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. In the first, Big Brother wins, and the boot will grind into the human face forever. In the second, the world of 1984 must be over because there’s a note on Newspeak written in the past tense and in standard English. So Newspeak did not prevail. That approach certainly influenced the way I ended The Handmaid’s Tale: with two endings, one open—does she make it or not?—and the other set much later, in which Gilead has not prevailed.

Endings are very important, as are beginnings; I fret a lot over both. Beginnings perhaps more, however.

Margaret Atwood is a Canadian poet, novelist, literary critic, essayist, inventor, teacher, and environmental activist.