The resolution is the final series of events that tie off all loose ends and ensure the reader understands what happened to the characters. It is also known as the denouement. Any unanswered questions are answered. It is an important part of the plot.
Definition of Resolution
A resolution in literature is the part of the story that provides readers with answers to their questions and resolves any lingering issues. The main parts of the conflict are concluded, and readers should walk away from the story feeling as though they’re satisfied with what they’ve learned. Alternatively, if the writer intends to continue the story in another volume or novel, then they might leave a few loose strings or create a cliffhanger ending. If they’ve created a strong and investing story, this fact should inspire the reader to pick up the next book and find out what happens next.
Freytag’s Pyramid is a commonly used resource to structure a story or help students understand the various elements that make up stories. The pyramid starts with a flat line along the far left side. It’s here that the “exposition” is marked. As the pyramid rises to its point (the climax), readers can find the rising action.
The falling action is on the other side of the pyramid, followed by the resolution and sometimes the dénouement. In other versions, these two final elements are the same. While the pyramid is one way of looking at a story’s structure, it is not the only way. It’s a useful tool for students and can be applied to some of the best stories ever written.
Examples of Resolution in Literature
1984 by George Orwell
1984 is Orwell’s dystopian classic. It is a depiction of the world as Orwell feared it would be, looking into the future from 1948. The novel has a well-defined plot structure. The exposition provides the reader with the information they need in regard to Winston Smith’s life and the broader nature of the Party and Big Brother. The rising action occurs when Winston Smith meets, becomes infatuated with, and starts an affair with Julia. The novel progresses through the climax and falling action and then finally arrives at the resolution. It occurs right at the end of the novel after Winston has been tortured and had his mind rebuilt by the Ministry of love and O’Brien. Here is a quote from that particular portion of the book:
O cruel, needless misunderstanding! O stubborn, self-willed exile from the loving breast! Two ginscented tears trickled down the sides of his nose. But it was all right, everything was all right, the struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother.
These are the last lines of the novel. Winston is sitting and thinking about Big Brother and the “forty years it had taken him to learn what kind of smile was hidden beauty the dark moustache.” He has lost the main battle that he’d been fighting throughout the novel—to maintain his individuality.
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
In The Great Gatsby, readers learn the story of Jay Gatsby, a man obsessed with reclaiming his past and willing to use his massive wealth to do so. His quest to rekindle his relationship with Daisy leads to disaster. The resolution o the novel occurs when Nick decides to return to Minnesota, moving away from the unhealthy situation he’s been in. He knows that the rich are morally corrupt in a way that his family and friends back home are not.
“They’re a rotten crowd,” I shouted across the lawn. “You’re worth the whole damn bunch put together.” I’ve always been glad I said that. It was the only compliment I ever gave him, because I disapproved of him from beginning to end. First he nodded politely, and then his face broke into that radiant and understanding smile, as if we’d been in ecstatic cahoots on that fact all the time.
These lines appear towards the end of the novel as Nick is saying his goodbyes to Gatsby. They are evocative of the deeper emotion at the heart of the shallow life the latter has been living and that Nick has been exposed to.
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
The Bell Jar is Sylvia Plath’s only novel. It is semi-autobiographical, following Esther Greenwood, who travels to New York City to participate in a summer internship. She expresses disregard for the big city and the culture it promotes. Her mental state worsens throughout the novel, and she tries to commit suicide several times. Finally, she takes 50 sleeping pills and crawls into a hole in the cellar. She survives and goes on to have several life-changing events and perhaps even give birth to a child. The novel’s resolution occurs when Esther is driving and considering how the “bell jar” could come down on her at any moment and disrupt the small amount of peace she’s been able to find. Here are the final lines of the novel:
Pausing, for a brief breath, on the threshold, I saw the silver-haired doctor who had told me about the rivers and the Pilgrims on my first day, and the pocked, cadaverous face of Miss Huey, and eyes I thought I had recognized over white masks. The eyes and the faces all turned themselves toward me, and guiding myself by them, as by a magical thread, I stepped into the room.
Although it’s not entirely clear what happens to Esther after the novel’s final lines, readers might turn to Plath’s own life for clues (considering the semi-autobiographical elements of the novel).
Explore Sylvia Plath’s poetry.
Related Literary Terms
- Conflict: a plot device used by writers when two opposing sides come up against each other.
- Climax: the point at which the main character is forced to contend with the central conflict of the story.
- 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.
- Cliffhanger: a narrative device that’s used to end a story abruptly before an action or segment of the plot is concluded.
- Flashback: a plot device in a book, film, story, or poem in which the readers learn about the past.
- Watch: What is the falling action of a story?
- Read: Freytag’s Pyramid
- Read: How to Write Falling Action
- Read: The Secrets of Story Structure