Last week, we shared some of literature’s most famous first lines. But what about last lines? The closing line is the author’s final opportunity to leave the reader with a lasting impression of the book. Some last lines offer closure, others leave the reader with questions; the best stay with a reader—long after they’ve turned the final page. Read on to see some of the most famous closing lines in fiction … but be warned: major spoilers lie ahead.
‘So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.’
Perhaps one of the most famous last lines on this list, the closing sentence in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 20th century masterpiece, The Great Gatsby, is profound and melancholic, perfectly encapsulating his story about the elusive American dream.
‘Are there any questions?’
Talk about leaving the reader hanging! Atwood’s ending to her dystopian classic, The Handmaid’s Tale, is deliberately ambiguous. Not only is the fate of the protagonist left up in the air, but the reader is left contemplating a number of issues explored in the book, such as power, control and women’s rights. Are there any questions? Yes, I think I have a few!
‘The scar had not pained Harry for nineteen years. All was well.’
The final line in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is bittersweet. Sweet because after years of following the series, it provided readers with the ultimate sense of closure. Bitter because it marked the end of Harry’s adventures … at least until Harry Potter and The Cursed Child graced the world’s stages.
‘A last note from your narrator: I am haunted by humans.’
The final line in Markus Zusak’s modern classic, The Book Thief, is powerful and haunting—even more so when you consider that the novel is narrated by Death. This ending has stayed with me … years after I first read it.
‘He loved Big Brother.’
The conclusion to George Orwell’s dystopian masterpiece is one of the most devastating in literature. In four short words, Orwell crushes the reader’s hopes for resistance, sending them back to the inevitable status quo.
‘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.’
Orwell certainly knew how to craft a brilliant—if depressing—ending, and this is certainly evident in the final lines of his allegorical satire Animal Farm. As the other animals’ struggle to distinguish the pigs from the humans, Orwell leaves the reader with a searing message about the corrupt nature of power.
‘I wish you all a long and happy life.’
Tragic yet hopeful, the final line in Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones is quietly devastating, and it still haunts me—years after first reading it.
‘It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done. It is a far, far better rest that I go to, than I have ever known.’
Grand and sweeping, the last line in Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities is definitely iconic, and is perhaps only overshadowed by the novel’s first line: ‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…’
‘And so, as tiny Tim observed, god bless us, everyone.’
Cheery and upbeat, these famous and much-quoted last words are the perfect way to conclude Dickens’ classic story about the cold-hearted miser-turned generous gentleman Ebenezer Scrouge.
‘After all, tomorrow is another day.’
The final line in Margaret Mitchell’s Pulitzer-winning novel, Gone with the Wind, is the perfect way to conclude her story about the wilful and determined Scarlet O’Hara who never gives up, despite repeated disappointments. It’s also a great mantra to live by!