What is the Climax?
In literature, the climax is the peak in the pyramid shape of a narrative, the moment when the conflict reaches its highest point. This is sometime also called "the crisis." Beginning with exposition, a narrative builds through conflicts, known as rising actions, to the climax. Afterward, the narrative swiftly descends into falling action, leading to the denouement.
Often, but not always, the climax is the last major plot event; everything else in the story, play, novel, or epic poem exists to "wrap up" the details and provide resolution. The purpose of the climax is to allow the reader to grasp the significance of the protagonist’s struggle, the odds he is up against, or the fate that lies in store for him. It is a turning point in the narrative, after which no important new information occurs.
How Do You Identify the Climax in Writing?
In many narratives, particularly action films, the climax is a showdown between the main character and his or her antagonist. For instance, in the climax of the film Terminator 2, the T-800 machine, played by Arnold Schwartzenegger, and its ally, Sarah Conner, battle the T-1000 model to prevent the machines from taking over the world.
Narratives that are less dramatic may culminate with moments of revelation or discovery. The climax of the "A White Heron," by Sarah Orne Jewett, occurs when Sylvie climbs a giant pine tree in the forest in order to locate the nest of a rare bird that a hunter wants to kill and add to his collection. By the time she reaches the top of the tree and sees the bird, Sylvie realizes that she can never betray the woods’ secrets, and the rest of the story is falling action.
Examples of Climax
1. In Tolstoy’s novel, Anna Karenina, the climax is when Anna throws herself under the train, the literal end of a life that ended symbolically when she gave up her family and social connections to live with her lover, Vronsky.
2. The climax of Shakespeare’s play, Romeo and Juliet, is in Act III, when Romeo kills Tybalt and realizes that he has sealed his fate.
3. The climax of Richard Connell’s story, "The Most Dangerous Game," occurs when Rainsford jumps off a cliff into the sea rather than be killed by Zaroff, the man who is hunting him. Even though the reader doesn’t know Rainsford’s fate, they understand that he refuses to submit to his antagonist.
4. In Frederick Douglass’s Autobiography, the climax is when Douglass stands up to and physically overpowers Covey, a farmer with a reputation for "breaking" slaves. After he beats the white man, circumstances lead to his eventual escape to freedom.
5. The climax of John Steinbeck’s story, "The Chrysanthemums," occurs when Eliza sees that the tinker has left the flower shoots she gave him on the side of the road. This discovery leads to her realization that she is trapped in a life of diminished importance.
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