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What happens in a story after the big climax? In this lesson, we will take a look at the ‘denouement,’ the part of the narrative that wraps up all the loose ends.

What Is Denouement

Denouement is from the French word denouer, which means to untie. In literature, the denouement is simply the very end of the story. It should be noted that the denouement is different from the climax.Consider how movies are structured.

The climax is when the guy finally gets the girl or the car chase that catches the villain. The denouement, on the other hand, is the short scene after the climax where things get clarified and all the loose ends are tied up.Think about a Sherlock Holmes novel or any other mystery story. During the climax, Holmes catches the culprit, usually by outwitting him in some way.The denouement is the closing chapter or scene where Holmes explains to Watson or the police exactly how he figured out who the culprit was and how he came to those conclusions. The denouement unravels the mystery and provides any necessary pieces of missing information.

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Sherlock Holmes Ties Up Loose Ends
Romeo and Juliet (1597)

Romeo and Juliet tells the classic tragic tale of two young star-crossed lovers. Their relationship is doomed from the start because of their families’ hatred of each other.We all know how the tragedy ends. Romeo thinks Juliet is dead and kills himself. But Juliet is only faking her death. When she awakes and sees that Romeo has killed himself, she stabs herself to death as well.

Those events are the climax of the story.However, the denouement occurs afterwards, when the Montagues and the Capulets are all at the tomb and see that their beloved children have both committed suicide. The heads of the family know that their bitter feud must end and agree to stop their rivalry to avoid further tragedy.

Capulet and Montague Agree to End the Feud

The Great Gatsby (1925)

The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s well-known novel tells the tale of a naïve man named Nick who moves to New York for business. Nick’s neighbor, Jay Gatsby, is a wealthy man who throws lavish parties every Saturday night for the single purpose of getting the attention of his old flame Daisy.Daisy also happens to be Nick’s cousin.

She is also married to a man named Tom who is having an affair with Myrtle.

Lavish Gatsby Parties

Gatsby and Daisy eventually rekindle their love affair.

But tragedy ensues when Daisy, who is driving Gatsby’s car, collides into Myrtle’s car and kills her.The climax of the story takes place when Gatsby decides to take the blame for the accident. Myrtle’s husband George goes to Gatsby’s mansion and shoots him, and then kills himself.The denouement of The Great Gatsby occurs when Nick moves back to Minnesota to get away from what he considers the moral emptiness of the rich.

For all their wealth and lavish parties, everyone in Gatsby’s circle was morally bankrupt. Nick leaves New York with a sense that the American dream is nothing more than the empty pursuit riches which inevitably leads to dishonesty and corruption.

The Catcher in the Rye (1951)


Salinger’s classic coming of age story, The Catcher in the Rye, features sixteen-year-old Holden Caulfield, an alienated and disturbed teenager who has just been expelled from school and plans to spend the weekend alone in New York City because he can’t bear to face his parents. Holden is a boy who wants so badly to be a grownup, but does not have the maturity to handle adult situations.The climax of the novel is when Holden watches his little sister, Phoebe, ride the merry-go-round.Despite his search for connection and wisdom over his weekend in New York, he has found nothing but pain and frustration. But the sight of his beloved sister enjoying the carousel brings so much joy and happiness to him because of her simple childhood innocence.Holden realizes that he can’t just run away from his problems. He also understands that he’s not ready to be an adult.

Holden Caulfield Comes of Age

The denouement occurs in the final chapter of the novel. Holden is in a ‘rest home,’ or a psychiatrist facility, where he has been narrating the story.He tells us that after Phoebe’s merry-go-round ride, he was able to go home and face his parents.

He also tells us that he is presently receiving therapy after a nervous breakdown and plans to attend a new school in the fall. All the loose ends of the story are tied up.Of course, we don’t know if Holden is going to make it, but he tells the reader that he hopes to recover and plans to try hard in school.

Lesson Summary

In literature, a denouement is the very end of the story, after the climax that clarifies everything and ties up all loose ends.

However, not every story has a denouement. Sometimes the author or filmmaker has an open ending leaving the reader or viewer to draw their own conclusions.There are many classic literary works that have used denouement including Romeo and Juliet, The Great Gatsby, and The Catcher in the Rye.

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