Atomic Essay #5: all endings are artificial

The end of the academic sees me – and doubtless many others – in reflective mood. Endings do this to us. There's a frisson to them; we feel the weight of significance, even if we can't quite parse why.

Atomic Essay #5: all endings are artificial
Photo by Jason Blackeye / Unsplash

The end of the academic sees me – and doubtless many others – in reflective mood. Endings do this to us. There's a frisson to them; we feel the weight of significance, even if we can't quite parse why.

Thinking about endings takes me back to my discussions with Y13 about the ending of A Streetcar Named Desire. Why did Williams choose this part of Blanche's life to document – these start and end points? Why not frame her in girlhood, or at Belle Reve receiving gentleman callers; why not start the play in the sanatorium? This post isn't about answering those questions, but it does remind us that endings in literature are artificial – they are constructs, tools the writers use to make and transmit meaning. Where a character is framed temporally matters a great deal, because it influences the discourse around that character and therefore, more widely, the discourse that character provokes outside of the text.

As we end this academic year, we'll do our own framing. We'll tell the story of the year back, and we'll be as selective as any writer. We will choose the genre, form, action, dialogue &c to include or delete. It will be artifice.

Two things, then:

  1. Take care not to construct a narrative that self-flagellates, or bemoans, or regrets. "Don't think it was all hate that grew there," wrote RS Thomas in 'The Cry', "Love grew there, too."
  2. When a text 'ends' for us, it is in fact the beginning. It is the beginning of the text within us. This textual ending is the beginning of our thinking, as we live with what the text has left behind. Naturally, we've been doing this from the moment we started reading, but once it has ended it is the first time we can do it with the text as a whole.

This last point reminds us that endings are most useful as points in time – artificially constructed though they may be – at which new thinking could happen. For me, I'm going to take this ending not as a way to worry about what the past was or wasn't – or should or shouldn't have been – but rather as an opportunity to think more, think better, and get things a little less wrong each time.