Monday, May 16, 2011

Isn't it Pretty to Think So?

"Isn't it pretty to think so?"

That isn't the exact last line of Ernest Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises, but it's near enough to the end to qualify as the last words of the novel.
It doesn’t seem like an especially profound grouping of words. But consider what's said before it.

"We would have been so good together."

By then, both the reader and the narrator know that they wouldn't have been. So when the narrator tells Brett, "Isn't it pretty to think so?" the reader can only nod in agreement with that sad, final truth.

Writers work hard to craft the opening sentence. So much hinges on it. It has to draw the reader in, set the tone and pace, maybe even establish character and setting. Sometimes, it's good enough to be a stand-alone quote. "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..." "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." But a great opening line isn't enough to carry the novel. Everything that follows has to support the opening statement. Eventually, the story comes to a close, and we've been convinced or we haven't. At the end, something has to tie it together, and even though the words may seem mundane out of context, within the context of the novel, the ending has to be as profound, or even more so, than the opening. It's the final impact. The words that will linger.

I'm not a huge fan of Hemingway's work. The Sun Also Rises isn't even in my top one hundred favorite books. And yet, when I'm trying to wrap up a story, these lines always come back to me because of how perfectly they complete the story he told. It isn't a happy ending. It's the right ending. Only a master of the art could get so much out of such a deceptively simple statement.


  1. Hi Kathleen

    I've never heard this mentioned before, that the last sentence can be so important. But now that you mention it, I agree. Sometimes the last sentence is what you remember most. Hemingway especially had a thing for last lines. He's fallen out of fashion but I've always liked Hemingway.

    "Sit now, nordchen, by the waters of Babylon and weep."

    (last line of "The Lady and the Unicorn")

  2. I think it's actually more difficult to craft a memorable last line than a first one. You've provided a stellar example.

    I often find myself circling back with an allusion to the beginning.
    I'm humming as I zip up my black velvet jumpsuit and step into my spiky leather boots. I still have no idea what I'm going to do about Jimmy. Or about Francesca, for that matter.

    Maybe I'll just go off to Greece by myself and think about it.

    I'm sure of one thing, though. Right now, I'm going to go out and drive the crowd crazy with lust. Just for the fun of it.

    (from Exposure)
    And I must say, your post is a totally different take on the topic than mine!

  3. Different takes on the subject makes it interesting.

  4. Oh! One of my favorite books and what a great ending. I agree with Lisabet-- those last lines are the hardest to get down perfectly. I know I often toy with that last paragraph or so until it's as perfect as I can get it. Thanks for this terrific example!