Favorite Literary Last Lines
by Emily Stratton
The final lines in novels can be important. They may have impact, be memorable, complete the story or just indicate how the characters will go forward.
Margaret Mead ends Gone with the Wind with a simple line that remains relevant in today’s busy times. Scarlett O’Hara, in her desire to bring back Rhett Butler, says, “After all, tomorrow is another day.”
My all-time favorite last line is from John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row. I liked it when I read the novel, but it was when I heard it spoken at the end of the 1982 movie that it hit me how moved I was by Steinbeck’s choice of words: “Once again the world was spinning in greased grooves.”
Another favorite last line comes from David Guterson’s Snow Falling on Cedars. I memorized the final words and even quoted them at the time to a friend. However, I had long forgotten the name of the book and the words but remembered I had shared them with that friend. When I called recently to see if he remembered the name of the book, he did not. But his son, who must have been standing nearby, did. Wow! What a memory. I found the book in the library and the final memorable sentence is, “…that accident rules every corner of the universe except the chambers of the human heart.”
A friend of mine, a retired English teacher, has a number of favorite last lines. Perhaps the one that is most meaningful to her, given she is a writer herself, is from How Reading Changed My Life by Anna Quindlen: “Books are the plane, and the train, and the road. They are the destination, and the journey. They are home.”
Under the category of most famous last lines is F. Scott Fitzgerald’s closing in The Great Gatsby, “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” And also Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities: “It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.”
I began exploring last lines in literature recently after receiving an email from a childhood friend who teaches Russian at Houston’s Bellaire High School. She asked if I remembered sending her a quote years ago from Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov when I finished reading it. She was the one who had started my journey with Dostoyevsky. I had not remembered sending her the quote back then, but in rereading the words, they were especially meaningful at this moment. My sister was near the end of her life, and I had been thinking about our childhood together. Actually, this quote does not conclude Brothers Karamazov but is on the next to last page. Taking a bit of license, I am considering it the last: “You must know that there is nothing higher and stronger and more wholesome and good for life in the future than some good memory, especially a memory of childhood, of home. People talk to you a great deal about your education, but some good, sacred memory, preserved from childhood, is perhaps the best education. If a man carries many such memories with him into life, he is safe to the end of his days, and if one has only one good memory left in one’s heart, even that may sometime be the means of saving us.”
Do you have a favorite last line—or perhaps one from the next to last page?