The ending of a literary work is one of the most effective plot devices used by authors and poets; but writers choose to bring an end to narratives in a number of ways. I will focus on the works of McCarthy, Auden and Fitzgerald and how the endings they produce not only differ but are similar.
McCarthy makes extensive use of foreshadowing in his novel ‘The Road’ in the build up to the conclusion of the story. The motif of the boy ‘carrying the fire’ presents the boy as a messianic figure of sorts, responsible for the transportation of virtues imparted to him by his father. The role of the boy directly relates to the ending of the novel because even when his father dies and he is seemingly left alone, the boy still understands he must carry on albeit without the assistance of his father. However, the Boy can be interpreted less literally. The fact that the child carries a proverbial ‘fire’ as well as the Father saying ‘they are gone and I am left’ reveals the notion that the two main characters are in fact some of the only living people remaining on the road – fire is representative of warmth, brightness and life itself. The boy may be a representation of life guided by ordinary morality, significantly different to the innumerable violent people who populate the road. Imagery is another prevalent narrative device employed by McCarthy, directly prior to the death of the Father it says ‘old dreams encroached on the waking world’; earlier in the novel it is explained that pleasant dreams are in fact a bad omen and allude to imminent death. The introduction of the ‘old dreams’ into the psyche of the Man show the transition from life to death. One aspect of the ending perceived to be out of place is the short text in which McCarthy makes reference to ‘line trout’ who are swimming around, this random unveiling of one aspect of life that has seemingly remained unaffected by the events that transpired resulting the apocalyptic events for one of the first times in the book presents a notion of viable hope. Juxtaposed with the death that occurred just a few pages prior, McCarthy is able to swiftly transition from a dark tone to one of emergent hope.
Auden also makes extensive use of imagery in his poems, more specifically the personification of abstract concepts such as time itself. In poems such as ‘As I Walked Out One Evening’ he refers to the ability of ‘Time’ to ‘deceive’ and break the ‘threaded dances’. The idea of time being not only human-like but also antagonistic is central to the macabre endings of his poems. The disappearance of the lovers and clocks ceasing to chime is indicative of the influence of time on the characters within poems. On the other hand, in the poem ‘Victor’ time is presented as a deified concept. Time is described as watching the eponymous Victor ‘as a cat watches a mouse’, the predatory analogy suggests that Time is able to anticipate future events: this in turn makes the murder of Anna at the end of the poem more profound. The contrast between the proximate Time and the absent yet omniscient Time adds a new facet to the malevolence of the character – Time opts not to intervene, regardless of circumstances.
Religion and mortality are the themes that pervade the ending of Fitzgerald’s ‘The Great Gatsby’. Although there are no explicit references to ideas about religion the only figure akin to God is the opthamologist whose eyes appear in the valley of ashes and results in Wilson stating ‘God sees everything’. The idea of the only constant in the fast moving world of the novel being an advertisement seems representative of the apotheosis of materialism itself. Decline of religion seems to be reflected in the immorality of characters throughout the novel, the infidelity of Tom and the deceptive personality of Jay Gatsby. By presenting a correlation between decline in religious belief and the breakdown in virtue, Fitzgerald appears to be alluding to the importance of religion in creating and sustaining morality. It can also be interpreted as a didactic expression of the insignificance of money, especially considering that regardless of the opulence of Gatsby’s lifestyle nothing can prevent the inevitable, death. This directly relates to the themes of mortality, the guests at Gatsby’s party are described as being like ‘moths’ and his Rolls Royce is described as an ‘omnibus’ showing his popularity and status. There is a stark contrast at his funeral where there are only three attendants. Fitzgerald employs pathetic fallacy through the ‘ever present rain’ to show the melancholic emotions not outwardly expressed by the mourners at the graveside. Also the insipidity at the funeral compared to the effervescence of the parties shows how the death of Gatsby is reflected in the disinterest of his former guests, reiterating the idea of tragedy being relative and life continuing regardless.
Ultimately the overarching constant found in the works of all three writers is the theme of death, used as an agent of moral lessons. McCarthy shows that despite the sadness that the death of a loved one can inflict, life must go on because each life has a purpose; Auden continuously tries to tell his readers that life is short and is to be enjoyed but also that no single aspect of life should supercede all others and Fitzgerald warns that despite material wealth, personal possessions have no sway over the one inevitability in life which is of course death.