What is Climax?
The climax is considered the highest point of tension or drama in a narrative storyline. It is a critical and decisive moment when the main character confronts or faces a major adversity, threat or challenge that have been building towards throughout the plot. Often, it involves high stakes for the protagonist – failure could result in their demise, whereas overcoming this final obstacle leads to their ultimate success or redemption. The climax resolves the predominant central conflict that has been driving the narrative forward. After the climax is reached, there is a sense of falling action and resolution for the main character as loose ends get tied up. Essentially it is the make or break point for the protagonist that shapes the outcome of the remainder of the tale.
Common Examples of Climax
- In Harry Potter, the climax occurs when Harry finally confronts Voldemort and they battle at Hogwarts to determine the fate of the wizarding world.
- In The Hunger Games, Katniss and Peeta face off as the last two tributes standing, forced to battle each other to the death until Katniss defies the Gamemakers.
- In Romeo and Juliet, the climax is when Romeo confronts and kills Paris at Juliet’s tomb before taking his own life by her side. This tragic ending resolves the feud between their families.
- In Death of a Salesman, dysfunctional protagonist Willy Loman grows increasingly unstable before committing suicide in a desperate attempt to financially provide for his family.
- In Titanic, the climax occurs when the ship finally sinks into the freezing Atlantic ocean, leading to emotional scenes of life and death.
- In Star Wars Episode IV, Luke destroys the Death Star in a climactic battle just before it can obliterate the Rebel base, saving the Rebellion.
Climax Examples in literature
“A Tale of Two Cities” by Charles Dickens
“It grew louder –louder –louder! And still the men chatted pleasantly, and smiled. Was it possible they heard not? Almighty God! –no, no! They heard! –they suspected! –they knew! –they were making a mockery of my horror!”
This quote comes from the end of the story as the narrator finally succumbs to guilt over the old man he killed and buried under the floorboards. As the police chat casually in the same room, the murderer hears an imagined beating heart growing louder and louder. The climax arrives as the sound crescendos and the narrator becomes convinced the policemen hear the heart too, indicating they know about the killing and are mocking his horror.
“Lord of the Flies” by William Golding
“Ralph wept for the end of innocence,
the darkness of man’s heart,
and the fall through the air of the true,
wise friend called Piggy.”
The aforesaid lines describe the emotional climax of the novel. The author highlights the moment Ralph is overwhelmed with grief following Piggy’s demise. This event signifies the dissolution of the boys’ innocence and their descent into barbarism. The dismantling of their social structure leads to the emergence of brutality; the killing of Simon and Piggy represents a complete break from the civilized aspects of their society on the island. Piggy’s death, in particular, embodies the eradication of enlightenment, logic, empirical thinking, and intellectuality. Piggy is the embodiment of logical thought amidst the chaotic and aggressive actions of Jack’s followers. With his death, primal instincts overrun what is left of the orderly self.
“The Scarlet Letter” by Nathaniel Hawthorne
“Dimmesdale — you recall my words? –ah! –there is another secret known in connection with that of which I have confessed — a secret which lies still deeper and more dreadful”
The climax arrives with Dimmesdale’s ominous statement, implying that he has kept yet another hidden crime unconfessed, a deeper and more awful secret. The declaration creates a sense of dread and foreboding, as the audience wonders what wickedness might be more detestable than adultery. Hawthorne delays the announcement in this tranquil moment, providing a buildup of anticipation and suspense that is magnified manifold once the fact is revealed.
The scene illuminates the celestial consequences of repression, shame and hypocrisy that captivate the themes of the novel. The statement also suggests an unexpected plot twist. It hypothesizes that the revelation might unlock another shock pillar which leads to an elaborate and climactic denouement.
“Macbeth” by William Shakespeare
“Macbeth: Is this a dagger which I see before me, The handle toward my hand? Come, let me clutch thee! I have thee not, And yet I see thee still. “Art thou not, fatal vision, sensible To feeling as to sight? or art thou but A dagger of the mind?”
In the aforesaid soliloquy, Macbeth questions his own sanity and the supernatural nature of the prophecy he has been given. The climax of the soliloquy comes when Macbeth anguishly wonders if the dagger he sees is a physical object or a figment of his mind. This query intensifies paranoia and guilt of the Macbeth indicating a turning point in his descent into madness and tyranny. The line pivots the scene towards a darker conclusion as Macbeth’s mental state deteriorates, which threatens to consume him completely.
“Waiting for Godot” by Samuel Beckett
“ESTRAGON: We’ll hang ourselves tomorrow.
Unless Godot comes.
VLADIMIR: And if he comes?
ESTRAGON: We’ll be saved.”
This exchange occurs towards the end of the play after Vladimir and Estragon have been waiting for the mysterious Godot, who never shows up. After another day spent waiting in vain, the characters contemplate suicide out of despair over the endless monotony and meaninglessness of their existence.
The climax arises in Estragon’s proposal that they “hang ourselves tomorrow” if Godot yet again fails to arrive, giving them one last hope to cling to. The possibility that Godot could still come at the last moment presents their final chance for some kind of salvation or breaking of the endless, recursive cycle they seem trapped in. There is a touching poignancy in their resigned determination to kill themselves if their vigil proves completely futile in the end.
“Top Girls” by Caryl Churchill
Marlene: I’m going to tell you something. You listen. I’ll tell you what happened to my little baby. I had her adopted like they said. That’s what they organized for me. She was two. I left her all day locked up with orange juice and biscuits and came back late and she was crying. She didn’t cry when I left. I never heard her cry like that before. She couldn’t stop clinging to me.
This revelation occurs in the final scene between central character Marlene and her visiting sister Joyce. After spending the first act socializing with successful women of myth and history, Marlene finally confesses the fate of the baby she gave up for adoption years ago in order to further her career.
The description of abandoning her crying infant crystallizes the play’s critique of the costs borne by women who pursue ambitious professional goals. Marlene attained prosperity at the expense of her maternal instincts. Her confession of almost unbearable guilt and pain comes as a climax after suppressing regrets, highlighting the idea that women often sacrifice family for success. The scene pivots the audience’s perceptions of Marlene, making her ambition seem a hollow, selfish pursuit built on rejecting her own daughter.
Climax Vs Suspense
Climax and suspense are two important elements of storytelling, but they are not the same thing. Here’s how they differ:
Climax: It is the point in a story where the central conflict or tension reaches to its peak. It is considered a dramatic or exciting moment in which the outcome of a situation is revealed or decided. The climax is the resolution of main problem or question of the story.
Suspense: Suspense is a feeling of anticipation or excitement. It arises from uncertainty or doubt. It is a technique used by the writers and filmmakers to keep the readers in queue to guess that what will happen next. Suspense builds gradually over time as the audience waits to see how events will unfold.
Here are two literary terms related to the concept of climax:
I- Turning point
The turning point is the moment in a narrative when the protagonist or central character makes a pivotal choice or experiences an event that alters the course events in the story. This critical moment leads up to or aligns with the climax, when tensions come to a head. For example, in Romeo and Juliet, the turning point is when Romeo kills Tybalt to avenge Mercutio’s death. This leads to his banishment setting up the eventual tragic climax.
The crisis in literature refers to a decisive, crucial moment in the plot when tension reaches the highest point, the issue comes to a head, and the final outcome is uncertain. It occurs right before the climax. For example, in The Hunger Games when Katniss and Peeta consider committing dual suicide by eating poison berries as the only remaining tributes, this moment of deciding life and death is the crisis point before the rule change climax.
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