These Are the End Times: 12 Memorable Closing Lines

Editor's Note:

If you’re stirred by these author quotes, amble down our archive for more.

Last week we reveled in some of literature’s most audacious opening lines; but this week we’ve become that impatient reader who flips straight to the last page. Sewing a story up neatly is almost as difficult as beginning one in the first place, but many authors have still managed to blow us away with their parting shot (unfortunately those oft-quoted examples by Fitzgerald, Hemingway and Dickens keep hogging all the acclaim).

Some of the following passages are well-known, while others are deserving of greater appreciation. The last lines of a book characterize the strange moment when reader and author finally say farewell to each other. Though it seems the conversation only goes one way, remember that you and the author have something in common: you’re also saying farewell to all the book’s characters, both beloved and reviled. When you think of it that way, it’s kind of a miracle that anyone has ever read their favorite book’s last page.

Jules Verne, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, 1870
“Thus, to that question asked six thousand years ago by Ecclesiastes, ‘That which is far off, and exceedingly deep, who can find it out?’ only two men now have the right to answer: Captain Nemo and myself.”

Diana Vreeland, DV, 1984
“I’m sure I chose to be born in Paris. I’m sure I chose my parents. I’m sure I chose to be called Diana. And I’m sure I chose to have a nurse called Pink. Don’t ask me her other names. People called Pink don’t have other names.”

Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, 1885
“But I reckon I got to light out for the Territory ahead of the rest, because Aunt Sally she’s going to adopt me and sivilize me and I can’t stand it. I been there before.”

Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man, 1952
“Who knows but that, on the lower frequencies, I speak for you?”

Samuel Beckett, Molloy, 1951
“Then I went back into the house and wrote, It is midnight. The rain is beating on the windows. It was not midnight. It was not raining.”

Russell Banks, Continental Drift, 1985
“Go, my book, and help destroy the world as it is.”

George Orwell, Animal Farm, 1945
“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.”

Willa Cather, My Ántonia, 1918
“Whatever we had missed, we possessed together the precious, the incommunicable past.”

Jane Hamilton, A Map of the World, 1994
“All the same I knew I was forgiving him. I had that miraculous clarity for an instant and so I understood that the forgiveness itself was strong, durable, like strands of a web, weaving around us, holding us.”

Steve Erickson, Arc D’X, 1993
“And she watched take flight, like a black moth from his dead mouth, the name of the woman he loved.”

Janet Fitch, White Oleander, 1999
“I wanted to hear what she was saying. I wanted to smell that burnt midnight again. I wanted to feel that wind. It was a secret wanting, like a sing I couldn’t stop humming, or loving someone I could never have. No matter where I went, my compass pointed west. I would always know what time it is in California.”

Malcolm X, The Autobiography of Malcolm X, 1965
“And if I can die having brought any light, having exposed any meaningful truth that will help to destroy the racist cancer that is malignant in the body of America — then, all of the credit is due to Allah. Only the mistakes have been mine.”