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#113648 - 10/14/03 08:34 PM climax--how to find one
Wordwind Offline
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Registered: 09/30/01
Posts: 6296
Loc: Piedmont Region of Virginia, U...
You all have done so fantastically on connotation and denotation--really!--that I need to throw climax your way.

I think figuring out what is the climax in stories is one of the hardest tasks kids have to do. The defintions will make anyone loony.

The 'strictest sense' falls apart because creative writers aren't going to be boxed up--yet English teachers do like their little boxes.

Part of the confusion lies with Shakespeare's time in which the climax should occur in the third act of the tragedies. It was simply the way things were. (Are there any exceptions to this rule in Shakespeare's tragedies, I wonder? There was some very esoteric pyramid mentioned that I should look up--Freitag's pyramid, I think it was referred to in analyzing the tragedies...)

There are the 'turning point' climaxes and the 'moments of greatest emotional intensity' climaxes--but, you know, sometimes the climax is so terribly subtle and not terrifically emotional at all on the outside, but very much so on the inside.

I realize that all of this could be taken with a louche turn of mind, but that is not my intention at all.

What I'd really like are some classic examples--and definitely nothing very subtle--of dramas, short stories and so on--in which once the climax is reached, whether subtle turning point or great emotion, the action speeds up like mad, kind of like traveling to the top of a roller coaster and then screaming your head off all the way down (falling action). Sometimes--too often--the falling action occurs too quickly to even warrant much discussion. However, if you can think of an example of a story or play in which the falling action is terrifically intense, please mention it here. I'd love to use that roller coaster metaphor in class.

#113649 - 10/14/03 08:54 PM Re: climax--how to find one
Jackie Offline

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Loc: Louisville, Kentucky
"louche"--neat word, and thanks for reminding me of it.
I imagine many of Aesop's fables would fit the bill; and if you want a roller coaster, how about The Lottery (Shirley Jackson)?

#113650 - 10/14/03 11:46 PM Re: climax--how to find one
Bingley Offline
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Registered: 04/09/00
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How about The Lord of the Rings, with the destruction of the ring and the battle as the climaxes and then the cleansing of the Shire and the departure of the ring-bearers into the West as your intense falling off. Topical with the last part of the film coming soon. If they get it right, otherwise your students might get confused.


#113651 - 10/15/03 03:01 PM Re: climax--how to find one
slithy toves Offline

Registered: 01/29/02
Posts: 320
Loc: Sarasota, Florida, US
I believe it is correct, ww, that the dramatic climax in Shakespearean tragedy is supposed to occur in the third act. Thus, in Hamlet the "play within a play" in Act III, wherein Hamlet catches the conscience of the king, is the point where the rising action ceases. Hamlet stops procrastinating and begins to act, leading inevitably to the tragic conclusion. Another example: In Macbeth the banquet scene is the moment, also in Act III, when things stop going Macbeth's way, and from there on it's falling action, downhill all the way. The Elizabethans, like the Greeks before them, seemed to feel that such conventions should be adhered to strictly, in the same way that a sonnet had to have fourteen lines of iambic pentameter. Since then drama, as is true of literature in general, has wandered away from these strict conventions. And it keeps changing. During the first half of the 20th century, plays were nearly always divided into three acts, with the dramatic high point generally occurring at the close of Act II. This is hardly ever the case now. In contemporary novels and short stories--aside from those that are obviously thrillers--the emphasis seems to be more on character than on action. Many of the short stories I read these days are basically character sketches that don't so much end as drift off. I can think of one novel--a favorite of mine, in fact--that does have a recognizable dramatic climax. That's A Separate Peace, by John Knowles. Halfway through the book an important event takes place and the mood changes dramatically, taking a darker path to the story's conclusion. It would be interesting to think of other fairly recent novels that have such a climactic moment.

#113652 - 10/15/03 07:30 PM Re: climax--how to find one
Zed Offline

Registered: 08/27/02
Posts: 2154
Loc: British Columbia, Canada
A simple and definitely unsubtle example would be any old fashoned mystery short story, eg Agatha Christie or Rex Stout. "And the murderer is" being the climax and then a brief anti-climax tying up the loose threads and saying who marries who.

#113653 - 10/16/03 10:45 AM Re: climax--how to find one
AnnaStrophic Offline
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Registered: 03/15/00
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Loc: lower upstate New York
Oh, yes! Rex Stout! This probably won't help Wordwind much, since she's teaching ninth-graders (then again...) but all the novels reach their climax when my favorite detective, the erudite epicure Nero Wolfe, having assembled all suspects in his elegantly-appointed office, subtly but masterfully points the finger. Let the denouement begin!

#113654 - 10/16/03 12:57 PM Re: climax--how to find one
Alex Williams Offline

Registered: 01/05/01
Posts: 1814
Loc: Spam Factory
Here's my contribution for a good example of a literary climax. In Oedpius Rex, when Oedipus discovers his identity and realizes the implications of it (namely patricide and incest) that is the climax of the play. He has gained knowledge that will forever change him; the rest is denoument. In fact this makes for an interesting moment because the truth he has just learned is the very truth that the audience knew along, which was a source of dramatic irony.

#113655 - 10/16/03 02:19 PM Re: climax--how to find one
shanks Offline
old hand

Registered: 03/16/00
Posts: 1004
Loc: London, UK
Dear Wordwind

One drama that comes to mind with a fantastic climax and roller-coaster ride is, of course, Wilde's brilliant The Importance of being Earnest. In the final act, once Miss Prism is identified, everything moves on to the sounds of Jack desperately looking for the handbag. We, in the audience (or you, 'gentle reader'), know that something big is about to happen. But the action doesn't stop. Jack's frantic, but mistaken attempts to hug first Lady Bracknell, and then Miss Prism, then the revelation of his actual birth, the realisation that Algy's his younger brother and finally, the discovery from the army records that his name is, after all, Earnest, are as roller-coaster-like a set of dramatic incidents as any I know of.

To be fair, though, almost any decent bedroom farce should provide you with a climactic final act - though how seriously you take the characters and their circumstances I don't know.

Anyway, them's my recommendations. Denouements awayyy!

#113656 - 10/18/03 07:21 AM Re: climax--how to find one
consuelo Offline
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Registered: 06/11/01
Posts: 2636
Loc: Caribbean
How about "The Rocking Horse Winner" by D.H. Lawrence? The rollercoaster creakily climbs to the whispers "There must be more money", crests when the boy discovers that he can pick the winning horses if he rides his rocking horse to a frenzy, and then it's following the frenzy downhill from there to the accompaniment of the same whispers growing to shreiks of realization that for some people there is just never enough.

#113657 - 10/18/03 12:19 PM Re: climax--how to find one
Wordwind Offline
Carpal Tunnel

Registered: 09/30/01
Posts: 6296
Loc: Piedmont Region of Virginia, U...
Terrific, Connie! That's just what I'm getting at. And want for the kids. Determining climax is such an abstract and (finally) debatable kind of activity that kids get confused--and understandably so.

With so many stories being identified as having the climax toward the end because of the pet phrase "moment of highest emotional intensity"--well, that judgment is very, very subjective and (perhaps) arguably incorrect. Especially if you consider what I think is a much better pet phrase (especially since it appeals to me ): "the turning point." Turning point is more objective than 'moment of highest emotional intensity'--and it would help one get through Shakespeare as well as through contemporary stories.

Am I just too much of a renegade to want to suggest: We should welcome student writers to indentify climaxes--and to support their arguments without being so damned concerned whether we agree with them? The "moment of highest emotional intensity" really bugs the hell out of me. I think a suicide is a pretty emotionally intense moment, to tell you the truth, and I would understand why a 14-year-old student would want to argue that Romeo's death is a (relatively speaking) emotionally intense moment, and I could understand why a 14-year-old student might be confused by any argument I make about the climax having occurred earlier in the drama--that is if I just offered up the definition as being "the moment in the drama of highest emotional intensity." That's why I personally have problems with defining climaxes that way at all. Now turning point? Well, now we can talk. The turning point might be emotionally intense or perhaps not quite so emotionally intense.

I like the Lawrence short story--it's both an emotional point and also a turning point--and, yes, things continue to accelerate downwardly, just like that roller coaster metaphor I wanted to use. So, thanks for that example and I will definitely work in that story.

And I will go on record suggesting that this is a hard area to help bring a group of learners up to a level of confidence. And I might not do as good of a job as I hope to this year, but maybe it'll go better next year.

Thanks to all for the input.


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