12 Pretty Neat Last Lines from Literature

To round out last week’s post 11 swoon-worthy first lines from novels I tried to hunt for fantastic last lines. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it was much harder to find great last lines. It seems like people are always talking about how important a writer’s opening line is, but I find as a reader I am more often disappointed by the last line of a novel or short story and as a writer I find them much more difficult to craft. Also, it turns out that there aren’t that many lists on the internet, other than this one. Shocking!

Here are some of my favorites that I found. I don’t see as clear of a theme between this list as clearly as the last list. If I was going to categorize them, I’d say that about half sum up the whole narrative and the other half have a great sense of finality. Enjoy the list below and please share some of your favorites!

“Tomorrow, I’ll think of some way to get him back. After all, tomorrow is another day.” Margaret Mitchell, Gone with the Wind

“And the ashes blew towards us with the salt wind from the sea.” Daphne du Maurier, Rebecca

“I saw them come out and I saw they were naked, unshy, beautiful, and fill of grace and I watched the naked women walk out of the sea” John Cheever, “Goodbye My Brother” (Full disclosure, this is a story not a novel.)

“I will never come back, and if I do there will be nothing left, there will be nothing left but the headstones to record what has happened; there will really be nothing at all.” John Cheever, The Wapshot Scandal

“He stayed that way for a long time and when he aroused himself and again looked out of the car window the town of Winesburg had disappeared and his life there had become but a background on which to paint the dreams of his manhood.” Sherwood Anderson, Winesburg, Ohio

“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

“She was seventy-five and she was going to make some changes in her life.” Jonathan Franzen, The Corrections

“Oh, Jake,” Brett said, “we could have had such a damned good time together.”
Ahead was a mounted policeman in khaki directing traffic. He raised his baton. The car slowed suddenly pressing Brett against me.
“Yes,” I said. “Isn’t it pretty to think so?” Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises

“I been away a long time.” Ken Kesey, One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest

“The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.” George Orwell, Animal Farm

“Don’t ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody.” J. D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye

“It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both.” E.B. White, Charlottes Web

10 thoughts on “12 Pretty Neat Last Lines from Literature

  1. I find Mary Stewart is an excellent crafter of last lines. The following are from memory, but from books I’ve reread countless times:

    “Far off in the distance, high above the dying and dead, rose the towers of Camelot where he had always longed to go.” “The Wicked Day” by Mary Stewart.

    “On the hillside the small, copper-haired boy waved his arms furiously. Far in the distance, the blonde boy finally turned, and beckoned for him to come.” -“Lion of Ireland” by Mary Stewart.

    Apart from her, I actually just recently finished a book whose last line impressed me with the desire for a list of great last lines:

    “This was the third corpse that was thrown over the balcony at Aversa.” -“Celebrated Crimes of Joan of Naples” by Alexandre Dumas, pere

  2. Great list! I’ve always been struck by the last line of “A Separate Peace” by John Knowles.

    “All of them, all except Phineas, constructed at infinite cost to themselves these Maginot Lines against this enemy they thought they saw across the frontier, this enemy who never attacked that way–if he ever attacked at all; if he was indeed the enemy.”

    • Thanks for commenting! I thought about including that one, and ended up taking it off the list at the last minute. I had a hard time remembering the book (I read it about 10 years ago), but it is beautifully written. I guess I need to pick the book up again.

  3. excellent post. I feel like “last lines” would make an excellent English classroom poster. I’ve been inspired!

    • Thanks! Yes I think it could be fun in an English classroom. I think student’s love endings. I remember rewriting the endings to half the books I read in school (and thus a (aspiring) writer was born).

  4. I am still plugging The Outsiders where the first and last line are the same “When I stepped out into the bright sunlight, from the darkness of the movie house, I had only two things on my mind: Paul Newman, and a ride home. “

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