Denouement Explanation and Examples

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The denouement answers the question of what has happened to the main character or characters after the action and drama have ended. It is the very end of a story after the conflict has ended. It is the part of the play, story, novel or film that follows the climax. The denouement is sometimes written as an epilogue. In Gustav Freytag's pyramid model the denouement is the fifth phase after the climax and falling action. The Collins dictionary entries include "final outcome" and "final revolution" as definitions for denouement. It is also sometimes called the resolution. Denouement is derived from a French word.

Stories vary in how long the denouement is and what happens in it. Is there are a happy ending? If you a reading a tragedy the denouement may deal with what happens now that your beloved character is gone forever. Did the hero get the girl? Is the hero better off? Have the characters changed significantly because of the events that took place? The denouement needs to be long enough to satisfy the reader but it should not raise much additional potential conflict unless the writer is building up a sequel. Some of today's motion pictures - such as Marvel films - sometimes have hidden scenes to raise interest for a sequel the occur after the denouement and after the credits. This is really the beginning of another story and another adventure.

Examples From Literature
(spoiler warning: these examples and links obiously discuss the very ends of plays and books)

  • Shakespeare's "Rome and Juliet" ends after Rome and Juliet have tragically committed suicide and their parents discover their dead bodies in the tomb. The two leading families - the Capulets and Montague - agree to end their feud and vendettas. They erect gold statues of their lost children.

  • In F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby the climax involves the accidental death of Myrtle which leads to the murder of Jay Gatsby. The denouement is when the story's narrator Nick Carraway decides to leave Long Island high society and return to the Midwest. The ending also includes subtle messages about the American dream, wealth and morality.

  • The Brothers Grimm classic fairy tale "Little Red Riding Hoot" has dozens of versions. The denouement comes after the climax, which in some versions is when Little Red Riding Hood is eaten. In other versions she survives and the denouement has her enjoying lunch with her grandmother and learning a valuable lesson. Whether or not the girl lives or dies the message of being wary of strangers remains intact.

  • In many of Aesop's fables the author ends with a moral. In "The Lion & the Mouse," a lion is freed by a mouse that is had previously let go. The climax and ends after the mouse has freed the lion. The mouse gets in a final snarky line, "You laughed when I said I would repay you. Now you see that even a Mouse can help a Lion. Aesop ends the story with "A kindness is never wasted." There's nothing specific about what happens to the mouse and lion post-rescue, but the reader can infer they both learned a valuable lesson.

  • George continues on his own following Lennie's death in John Steinbeck's classic novel, Of Mice and Men. He is led to the "entrance of the trail and up toward the highway." The dream of George and Lennie owning their own farm is no more.

    More Examples

  • Literary Devices offers several denouement examples from literature, including Life of Pi and Brokeback Mountain.

  • also offers denouement examples including the not-so-comforting rolling ocean ending of Moby-Dick: "Then all collapsed, and the great shroud of the sea rolled on as it rolled five thousand years ago."