On Weak Endings

Alan Cai

December 16, 2022

Writers of fiction suffer an immensely difficult task of culminating a powerful and meaningful conclusion. Amateur and well-renowned authors alike constantly fall into the habit of extending stories longer than audiences believe they ought to be. Acts of plays, chapters of books, and even entire books in series are commonly deemed as unworthy for the magnitude of the works they represent, and are sometimes even removed in later renditions.

Many literary critics argue that the last chapters of “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”(the part that involved Tom Sawyer’s return) were unnecessary and detracted from the value of the story. Although arguments varied, the general idea behind calls for removal of this specific part revolved around the devaluing nature of Tom Sawyer’s childishness, the part adding very little, if at all the the deep themes and messages of the book, and the scenes occurring when audiences already deem the conflict to be resolved and the story to be over.

In a similar manner, the final two acts of Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” seemed overtly forced. The language was less elegant than that of the first three acts and the purpose of the fourth and fifth acts seemed to be just an elongated afterword aimed at writing all of the characters to death. Although it is understood that Shakespeare intended to portray both sides of the coin and explain the assassination of Caesar served not as a conclusion, but as a catalyst for future events, the climax of the story still lied in Caesar death in the third act, rendering the final two acts unnecessarily complicated falling action.

The apparent tendency for authors to turn otherwise short and enlightening endings into long and lame rambles is not restricted to merely works of western literature. One of the Four Great Literary Works of China, the Water Margin, is famous for containing an extended finale in which all of the heroes meet their fateful demise at the hands of like-minded rebels against the imperial government.

The mistake of appropriating redundant plot additions to the end of a story is also extended to popular culture. The sequel trilogy of Star Wars, fourth phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and modern Simpsons adaptations have all received criticism of failing to live up to their predecessors’ high standards.

The lack of continued excellency throughout a multi-faceted story is a difficult task to sustain. Thus, it is understandable that many great stories have rather insufficient endings. However, it ought to be any engaged reader’s expectation that a great story concludes with a spectacular ending.