Examples of Anticlimax In Literature

Definition of Anticlimax

An anticlimax arises when a peak of tension abruptly gives way to something dull or insignificant. For instance, someone might finally meet their idol only to find them rude and aloof. The excitement fizzles into letdown. Writers sometimes deliberately deny audiences a conventional climax to make a satirical point or highlight life’s absurdity. However, more often anticlimaxes unintentionally happen when a story fails to satisfy the expectation its own buildup generates. Either way, the sudden deflation from a dramatic high to “meh” feels underwhelming.

Function of anticlimax

The primary function of anticlimax in writing is to thwart the expectations of audience. It often creates an ironic and satirical effect. Authors use the device to surprise readers, comment on the absurdity of a situation and emphasize that life often fails to play out like fiction.

Anticlimaxes flip dramatic convention on its head for rhetorical impact. Rather than resolving tension, the device leaves an emotional void where intensity once operated. Skilled writers use this visceral disappointment to convey thematic points. For instance, an author might stress the insignificance of a problem by negating its built-up significance with a banal ending. At its best, the figure highlights cracks between expectations and reality.

Types of Anticlimax Figure of Speech

Situational Anticlimax – This refers to when a situation itself fails to live up to expectations. For example, a much-hyped product launch turns out to be rather lackluster and routine.

Plot Anticlimax – In literature and movies, an intricate plot leading towards an expected climax can suddenly fizzle into a mundane resolution. A classic storytelling bait-and-switch.

Comedic/Ironic Anticlimax – Writers may intentionally deny the audience a satisfying climax to highlight life’s absurdities and subvert dramatic conventions. Ending a tragedy with an inappropriately silly resolution is an extreme version.

False Buildup Anticlimax – Sometimes authors falsely exaggerate early narrative events to make the ultimate resolution seem more disappointing by comparison. It ratchets up the letdown effect.

Bathos – This is when an anticlimax directly follows heightened eloquent speech or lofty ideas. The abrupt transition to the mundane seems comically jarring.

Unintentional Anticlimax – Due to poor writing and structure, many stories inadvertently create anticlimaxes that frustrate audiences by failing to deliver on promises.

Examples of Anticlimax in Literature


“Hills Like White Elephants” by Ernest Hemingway

“Would you do something for me now?’ ‘I’d do anything for you.’ ‘Would you please please please please please please please stop talking?’ He did not say anything but looked at the bags against the wall of the station. There were labels on them from all the hotels where they had spent nights.”

The dialogue builds dramatic tension as Jig desperately pleads again and again for the American man to “please stop talking.” This emotional request suggests something serious and climactic is at stake in their conversation about her impending abortion. However, Hemingway poignantly denies any sense of resolution or catharsis. Instead of responding, the man simply looks at the luggage labels in silence. This mundane, indirect ending reflects the breakdown in communication between the couple. All the building tension evaporates without addressment. Hemingway relies on anticlimax here to capture the uncertainty and passive-aggressiveness undermining the relationship – rather than definitively learning if Jig goes through with the operation, the reader faces an abrupt non-resolution that powerfully subverts expectations. The hinted climax gives way to bathos.


“Much Ado About Nothing” by William Shakespeare

“What, have they quitted their labour? Before God, I am glad on’t; their labour must be great, for their make much of nothing.”

The aforesaid excerpt exemplifies anticlimax through its nonchalant and indirect resolution of the central conflict. Prior to this, the play builds tremendous tension around Hero’s alleged infidelity and whether the accusations against her virtue are true. The characters argue intensely over her innocence and honor, whipping themselves into a fervor over the situation. However, when the truth is finally revealed, it is done so very casually in this aside remark unrelated to Hero. Rather than some grand revelation finally clearing Hero’s name, the crisis is dispelled indirectly and treated as a triviality. Shakespeare employs anticlimax to satirize how the characters have exaggerated the importance of rumor and hearsay. After so much ado, the matter is proven to be “much of nothing” as the heightened tensions give way immediately to comedic bathos. The lack of a true climax mocks the tendency for scandals to be built up disproportionately through imagination and emotion rather than fact.


1984″ by George Orwell

“Winston had imagined that they had been taken into the Brotherhood and were about to meet the mysterious leader. He had the sensation of being on the edge of the great event that was to throw open the doors of the future.”

The paragraph evokes a feeling of impossibly big things to come falling down upon Winston. Since he imagines this lapse of time for many years now, he believes that due to the fact, they lead him to the Brotherhood group and is going to see their leader at last. The sentence that talks about him being on the “edge of the great event” and how the event will open doors for his aim of revolution, you are hopeful to experience a dynamic end where he becomes part of the coup which is his desperate desire.

But all that accumulative cap anticipation then evaporates ashore. The passage simply finishes leaving us short of being taken to the head’s meeting. He doesn’t come to a thrilling turning point and leaves you swinging there on the Winston’s rope swing rather unsatisfied. When it is meant to reward us for having been led to think we are reaching a state of climax that Winston longs for, there isn’t anything waiting in the end. It’s like the passage is playing a trick on us, faking us into believing we were in suspense for something thrilling and then revealing there was nothing behind that curtain.


Dr. Faustus” by Christopher Marlowe

Faustus: Nay! Let me have one book more and then I have done,
Wherein I might see all plants, herbs, and trees that grow upon the earth.

Mephistopheles: Here they be.
Faustus: O thou are deceived.

The passage builds up frustration with Faustus requesting one more book to see all the plants, herbs, and trees that grow on Earth. Mephistopheles presents the book, and there is an expectation that Faustus will finally achieve his goal of ultimate knowledge. However, Faustus’s statement, “O thou are deceived,” release the tension and expectation, as he realizes that the book doesn’t contain what he was looking for. The shift from a serious and ambitious desire to a humorous and ironic disappointment is an example of anticlimax.


A Tale of Two Cities” by Charles Dickens

In a moment, the whole company was on their feet. That somebody was assassinated by somebody vindicating a difference of opinion was the likeliest occurrence. Everybody looked to see somebody fall, but only saw a man and a woman standing staring at each other, the man with all the outward aspect of a Frenchman and a thorough Republican, the woman, evidently English.”

The anticlimax in this passage is the sentence, “Everybody looked to see somebody fall, but only saw a man and a woman standing staring at each other.”

The passage accumulate tension along with the expectation that someone has been assassinated, and the whole company is on their feet waiting to see who falls. However, the tension is ended when the man and woman are simply standing and staring at each other, without any violence or conflict. The sudden change from a dramatic expectation to a peaceful reality is an example of anticlimax.


“Emma” by Jane Austen

“She was mistress of the subject, and her feelings interrupted her, as she answered hastily—’Never, madam! Never, I assure you. A little beauty, and a few smiles, and a few compliments to the lady, are charming things, and carry no danger here.'”

 In this passage, the anticipation of a dramatic climax between Harriet Smith and Mr. Knightley dissolves anticlimactically. Emma has spent much of the novel trying to find an ideal romantic match for her friend Harriet. When it appears Harriet and Mr. Knightley have fallen for each other, Emma is distraught, as this would foil her matchmaking plans. However, the crisis is dispelled as quickly as it emerges. Rather than the expected denial or admission of love from Mr. Knightley, he casually explains that he was just harmlessly flirting with Harriet. Austen denies the reader the anticipated emotional confrontation and resolution to this dilemma. Instead, she allows all the tension to leak out anticlimactically, highlighting the bathos of the situation and mocking Emma’s matchmaking imagination, which conjured up a romance where only innocuous compliments existed. The seeming climax turns out to signify much less dramatically.

Examples of Anticlimax In Literature
Examples of Anticlimax In Literature

Related Terms


Bathos is closely linked to anticlimax, referring to when an abrupt transition is made from a dignified or elevated concept to something commonplace or vulgar. An anticlimax often relies on bathos – when building dramatic tension leads to a trivial conclusion, the effect is both anticlimactic and bathetic.


The denouement refers to the final resolution or climax of a story, where any remaining secrets, questions or tensions are revealed or resolved. An anticlimax intentionally subverts the satisfying climax that a denouement typically provides. All the narrative momentum seems to prepare the way for a dramatic denouement, only for the story to take an unexpectedly banal turn instead.

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