Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Famous Last Words

“And as I sat there brooding on the old, unknown world, I thought of Gatsby’s wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock. He had come a long way to this blue lawn, and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night.
Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter — to-morrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . . And one fine morning ——
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”--The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald

“A taxi came up the street, the waiter hanging out at the side. I tipped him and told the driver where to drive, and got in beside Brett. The driver started up the street. I settled back. Brett moved close to me. We sat close against each other. I put my arm around her and she rested against me comfortably. It was very hot and bright, and the houses looked sharply white. We turned out onto the Gran Via.
‘Oh, Jake,’ Brett said, ‘We could have had such a damned good time together.’
Ahead was a mounted policeman in khaki directing traffic. He raised his baton. The car slowed suddenly pressing Brett against me.
‘Yes,’ I said. ‘Isn’t it pretty to think so?’” --The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway
“With the spirit of her people who would not know defeat, even when it stared them in the fact, she raised her chin. She could get Rhett back. She knew she could. There had never been a man she couldn't get, once she set her mind upon him.
‘I'll think of it tomorrow, at Tara. I can stand it then. Tomorrow, I'll think of some way to get him back.  After all, tomorrow is another day.’” --Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell

“The old woman stood on the side of the road and waved back until the car was out of sight.” –Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café, Fannie Flagg

Where does a story stop, and when?  Is it when the characters stop telling their story to the writer? If that's the case, I'm in a lot of trouble because I'm fifty pages into my new book and my characters have been ignoring me for a little while, now.

But that notwithstanding, I finished up a great book recently and a television series I'd followed just had its finale, and as these things happened, something occurred to me: whenever a novel, a movie, a television series ends, we have only just read or seen a snippet, a small piece, of that person's life.  Now it could be a defining moment, what made them who they are, or whatever, but what happened before and what happens after are left up to readers and viewers to determine.

Now, whenever I start writing a story, I sometimes know where that story is in that character's life, the one that needs or wants to be told.  Ending it can be tough, though.  Not only is it my last chance with my readers (if they've decided to make it that far), but even after I stop writing the story, I still think about my characters and see the rest of their lives unfolding (occupational hazard, I guess--the characters always live in the mind of the one who creates them).
The ones I listed above are some of my favorite endings to books, for various reasons.
Fitzgerald, for instance, uses the lyrical and romantic writing style he is known for to encompass Nick's thoughts on the sadness of the events that took place throughout the novel and in doing so, closes the story in the only way he can.  The result is, I think, one of the most beautifully-written pieces of prose in literature.

Hemingway, though of the same generation as Fitzgerald and one of his friends, presents his ending a little differently, a little more succinctly.  He ends his story by focusing on Jake and Brett, two people who were once together.   They are not now, but still love one another.  Readers of even this small passage can see that in Hemingway's descriptions of their body language and words.  There is nothing keeping them apart other than themselves.  Hemingway was known for his stoic male characters and Jake is no exception.  His simple yet thoughtful response to Brett on what they could have had and been illustrates that and what's more, enables the reader to ponder even more on that statement.  This is one of the great things, I think, about Hemingway's writing style.  Even though the entire story is not just about Jake and Brett's relationship, I do like the fact that it ends with them, and their love.

Like Hemingway, Margaret Mitchell chose to end Gone with the Wind with a quote from its main character.  I quoted the first lines of this novel on my post on opening lines and just as important to understanding and knowing Scarlett O’Hara are these last lines.  It seems ambiguous at first glance and leaves readers with a common question: “What happens after that?”  I actually like endings like that.  Sometimes it’s best to leave it up to the reader to use his or her imagination, to think and analyze.  But, my thoughts on Scarlett and whether or not she ends up with Rhett are this: she puts off bad news and knowledge for the next day, instead determined to focus ahead on how to get what she wants.  There is little, if anything, this woman can’t get when she puts her mind to it.  So, though the ending may seem ambiguous at first glance, Scarlett’s history suggests that yes, she could very well get Rhett back.

The ending to Flagg's novel may seem simplistic as Hemingway's.  However, when I first thought of writing about last lines, this is one of the first that came to mind.  I know it doesn’t seem like much, but it always makes me think of many of the sweet, kind people in the south, and particularly my grandpa, who would wave in the distance at no one in particular as he walked down the back steps of his house.  I once asked him why he did that and since he was one of the first to read and encourage my writing, I suppose it's only right to end today's post with his response, his words: “Well, in case there’s anybody there that I just don't see.”

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