An epilogue is an extra chapter at the end of a literary work.
Epilogues are quite popular literary additions that allow the writer to add on a bit of information after the bulk of the story has ended. This might be in regards to the future of the characters, a follow-up about a secondary character or plotline, or it might even entail a change in perception that gives the reader a lingering alternative lookout the story.
Explanation and Definition of Epilogue
Epilogues are sometimes critical for understanding a work of literature while other times they are supplementary. Epilogues range in length anywhere from a few sentences to many pages of extra information. Historically, epilogues conveyed the moral lesson at the heart of a story to the audience of a play.
Sometimes, in genres like horror and suspense, epilogues are used to allude to a future novel. The epilogue might suggest that whatever conflict was at the heart of the novel is not actually concluded. The villain might return, or the creature the heroes thought was defeated is still alive. This bit of information informs the reader that there’s going to be another novel in the series. Alternatively, the epilogue might contain a “twist.” The writer might use it to reveal that everything was not what it seemed throughout the chapters or pages of the story or novel.
Examples of Epilogues
Animal Farm by George Orwell
Chapter 10 of Animal Farm is the epilogue of the novel. It works in a similar way to traditional epilogues in that the animals realize that the pig leaders have taken the place of the human farmers. They’ve become just as cruel and controlling. Orwell also makes his final argument about power, that it corrupts no matter who holds it. The novel ends with these famous lines:
Twelve voices were shouting in anger, and they were all alike. No question, now, what had happened to the faces of the pigs. The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.
Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare
The first epilogues were popularized in drama. Often, the end of a play contained 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 its revealed, through Friar Laurence, what happened to them. The leaders of the Montague and Capulet families hold hands and decide to make peace.
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 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 in which the Professors 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?
Why Do Writers Write Epilogues?
Writers have a range of reasons for wanting to write epilogues. In a stand-alone novel, the epilogue can be used to finalize all the events of the story, as well as confirm for the reader that there’s not going to be a sequel. The writer might use it to look into the future and depict the characters at another point in their lives. Perhaps the children who were the focus of the book have grown up happily, allowing the author to provide the reader with a satisfying ending.
Another writer might look at the epilogue differently. Depending on the genre, story, and the interests of the person writing, the epilogue could be quite suspenseful. One might think they’re at the end of the story but then be confronted with an epilogue that changes all of that. For example, as mentioned above, the return of a villain, the revelation that the hero isn’t defeated, or a twist that changes the reader’s perspective on the entire story.
Epilogues and Afterwords
An epilogue, like an afterword, comes at the end of the novel. The former is a part of the story, something that the reader will want to read. Afterward, on the other hand, is written sometimes by the author and sometimes by someone else, in regards to how the book came to be. In it, they might address those who helped them finish the novel, do research, or inspired them. An afterward is not necessary for understanding the plot of a novel.
Coda, tailpiece, conclusion, rider, postlude, addendum, supplement, postscript.
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.
- Foreshadowing: 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.