Endings and the Reader’s Imagination

“I wished it would never end.” How many times have readers said that as they closed their book with a sigh. I’ve caught myself reading slower and slower over the last few pages of a book I’ve loved, just to delay the inevitable!

For a class on Dickens I’m taking this fall, I just reread A Tale of Two Cities. At the end, the travelling coach carrying Lucie and her daughter, Doctor Manette, Mr. Lorry, and the unconscious Sidney Carton speeds away from Paris in its desperate escape. We know that the unconscious man is really Lucie’s husband Charles and that Carton has taken his place in the tumbrils headed for the guillotine. I waited in vain for identity of the slumbering man to be recognized, for Charles to wake up and realize he had been “recalled to life.”

But Dickens doesn’t give us that scene. He leaves us to imagine it. I can see amazement and joy mixing with horror and guilt when the realization finally comes to them, and they understand what Carton has done. What, in fact, he told Lucie he would do, some 200 pages earlier: “For you, and for any dear to you, I would do anything.” I see Lucie’s misery, as she recognizes the implications of Carton’s vow and feel the unbearable weight of her promise to keep it secret.

My vision of that scene—and yours—is beyond the covers. Our own ending to solve and resolve.

Sunday we saw the new movie Argo. A lot in that movie takes place by inference. As in the real world, the participants don’t have complete information and neither does the viewer, though we have the benefit of some multiple perspectives. Glimpses of the treatment of the main body of hostages let us imagine the rest. Likewise, details of the escape of the Canadian ambassador and his wife, also in deadly peril, must be mostly created by the viewer.

Have you imagined final scenes involving the characters of stories you read, see, or listen to? Share!