What Is Denouement?
The denouement is the point of resolution that typically follows a climax and the falling action in literature or film. The term comes from the French word meaning “to untie.” Denouement is the place where small details get “unwrapped” and the remaining characters go on to lead their lives.
How Do You Identify a Denouement in Writing?
Sitcoms, which follow a classic storyline, contain a denouement in the final scene after the commercial break. Usually this segment shows a minor plot complication getting easily resolved (the main plot complication was resolved before the commercial break), and the characters return to their usual status quo.
In literature, there is no ready format. Tolstoy’s novel Anna Karenina contains a lengthy denouement following Anna’s suicide, the climactic event. Tolstoy briefly shows the fate of Anna’s lover, Vronsky, before moving on to reveal how his other main character, Levin, learns that marriage is problematic but also contains joy. This denouement not only wraps up plot details but also allows Tolstoy to resolves his central theme, which is that “all unhappy marriages are different.”
Some plays and films have a brief denouement or simply end as soon the climax unfolds. This sudden ending is a common staple of films. It gives the impression that life never really “wraps up”; it is always moving from one complication to the next, and the film has simply focused on a single epoch in these characters’ lives.
Examples of Denouement
Denouement Example 1. In Romeo and Juliet, the denouement occurs when the elder Capulets and Montagues arrive to find that their children have committed suicide because of their feud. They resolve to go forward on better footing.
Denouement Example 2. In the film The Holiday, two women switch houses. The denouement of the film depicts the entire group of people brought together by the switch as they enjoy themselves at New Year’s Eve. In this way, the viewer knows they will go on to be happy together.
Denouement Example 3. At the end of Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones, the narrator uses an entire chapter for a denouement, detailing what has happened to every character, both major and minor.
Denouement Example 4. The postmodern denouement of A Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez reveals that the wrapping up of plot events also means the end of the family line, as though the moment the story itself comes to an end, nothing at all remains.
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