The best literary works end with a solid and effective coda. Without a believable ending, a story will not leave readers satisfied. If there are any unanswered questions, the coda should answer them. This could be what happens to the protagonist after the bulk of the story concludes or where an entire group of people ends up.
Coda pronunciation: coh-duh
A coda is the conclusion of a literary work. It may contain the necessary information for one’s understanding of the narrative, or it might contain what could be called bonus information.
That is, what happened to the characters after the main events of the story are other. This could include a flash-forward or focus on a secondary character whose role becomes more important in the narrative.
Examples of Codas in Literature
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
The concluding pages of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale are a perfect example of what an epilogue can accomplish. The scene is set 200 years after Offred’s story in a conference. There, academics are discussing what happened in Gilead.
One of these scholars shares Offred’s story and has transcribed it as a book “The Handmaid’s Tale.” He admits that he can’t fact-check it while also, through his language, alluding to the fact that not everything has changed. Here are a few lines from the epilogue of The Handmaid’s Tale in which the Professor speaks about Offred’s fate:
As for the ultimate fate of our narrator, it remains obscure. Was she smuggled over the border of Gilead, into what was then Canada, and did she make her way thence to England?
This provides readers with a conclusion of sorts. While Offred’s direct fate is not revealed, it does inform readers that the world changes.
Explore Margaret Atwood’s poetry and more of Atwood’s best books.
Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling
One of the best contemporary examples of a coda can be found at the end of the Harry Potter series. In the final book, in the last few pages, Rowling includes a coda. This describes the main characters, Harry, Ron, and Hermoine, gathering at King’s Cross Station as their children board the Hogwarts Express. The final lines contain a great deal of nostalgia as readers as reminded of the events of the first Harry Potter novel and all that’s happened to lead the characters to this happy ending. Here is a quote from the coda of The Deathly Hallows:
The last trace of steam evaporated in the autumn air. The train rounded a corner. Harry’s hand was still raised in farewell.
“He’ll be alright,” murmured Ginny.
As Harry looked at her, he lowered his hand absentmindedly and touched the lightning scar on his forehead.
“I know he will.”
The scar had not pained Harry for nineteen years. All was well.
When the novel ended, a great deal of time had passed between the main events and what’s described in the coda. This is known as a flash-forward. Without this technique, it would’ve required many more novels to reach this point.
Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare
The first codas, or epilogues, were popularized in drama. Often, the end of a play contains a summary of what’s happened and the moral the audience should’ve intuited from the action. Such is the case with the ending of Romeo and Juliet. Take a look at these lines from the end:
A glooming peace this morning with it brings;
The sun for sorrow will not show his head.
Go hence to have more talk of these sad things,
Some shall be pardoned, and some punished,
For never was a story of more woe
Than this of Juliet and her Romeo.
These lines are spoken by Prince Escalus at the end of the play. It occurs after the lovers’ bodies have been found, and the bulk of the story is over. and it’s revealed, through Friar Laurence, what happened to them. The leaders of the Montague and Capulet families hold hands and decide to make peace. Without these final lines, readers would be left wondering what happened to the feuding families. It also provides a purpose to the lovers’ deaths.
Explore William Shakespeare’s poetry and Shakespeare’s best plays.
Why are Codas Important?
Codas are important because they provide readers with the information they need to feel satisfied with the novel. They answer questions readers may have had throughout the entire narrative. Some codas make it clear that the characters have a happy ending, such as in the case of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Others, like the conclusion of The Handmaid’s Tale, are not as clearly positive.
The term is most commonly used in music. A coda is a separate portion of music at the end of a song—for example, the end of a ballet or another dance.
The word “coda’ means “the tail.” It is a passage at the end of a musical composition or at the end of a literary one that brings a story to its conclusion.
Yes, writers use codas. More commonly, codas are referred to as epilogues. These are the parts of a story that occur at the end. They may not always be necessary for understanding a work of literature.
Related Literary Terms
- Audience: the group for which an artist or writer makes a piece of art or writes.
- Cliffhanger: a narrative device that’s used to end a story abruptly before an action or segment of the plot is concluded.
- Foreshadow: refers to the hints a writer gives a reader about what’s going to happen next. It’s a common literary device that’s used every day.
- Genre: a type of art, literary work, or musical composition that is defined by its content, style, or a specific form to which it conforms.
- Novella: prose, fiction work that’s shorter than a novel and longer than a short story.
- Flash Forward: provides readers and characters with knowledge about future events.
- Denouement: occurs at the end of a story, where the plot lines are tied up and resolved.