Whimsical enthusiast of literature, science and musicals.

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The Satisfaction in ambiguous endings

Author Dodie Smith in "I Capture the Castle" foreshadowed her novel’s ambiguous ending through this quote from the novel: "I get the feeling I do on finishing a novel with a brick-wall happy ending – I mean the kind of ending when you never think any more about the characters."

What kind of satisfaction is there in a novel’s ending where the reader interprets what happens to the characters? Do readers tend to think about what happens to a character after a "brick-wall happy ending"? Is an ambiguous ending better suited to stories where the ending could be bittersweet or sad? What kind of situations merit the reader coming up with their own ending, instead of the author revealing how they imagine everything to end?

  • An ambiguous ending to a novel will undoubtedly leave open the window to future renditions. Even in a happy-ending scenario, there is potential for reversal of fortune (leading to another compilation). There is always the possibility that the reader massaged the plot into a flavor to their convenient liking; one the author could conceivably exploit into several more chapters, or sequels. – lofreire 7 years ago
  • These also serve as fodder for fanfictions. – Vishnu Unnithan 7 years ago

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Latest Comments

I’ve always taken issue with people who think that the ending of Jane Eyre is not feminist, and your article has exactly articulated why I feel that opinion is not fair to Jane. I’ve not heard of “Bad Feminist” but I am interested in giving it a read now. Thank you for this great post!

Analyzing Jane Eyre as a Contemporary "Bad Feminist"

This was such a fantastic read! I’ve been interested in vampire stories for a long time and it’s fascinating to see how many approaches there are to how they are portrayed.

Vampires in Literature: Opera Cloaks, Sparkles, and Prevailing Themes

I’ve always disparaged the ending of this fairy tale (partly because of how much I love the Disney movie of course) but your break down of why Andersen wrote this ending is brilliant. It’s still a little depressing to me, but I see why this was a meaningful ending for Andersen and important to what he was trying to say.

In Defense of the Conclusion to "The Little Mermaid"