Dispatches | April 29, 2004

Quite a few of us here at The Missouri Review, I’m sure, have been thinking about endings lately, in various contexts: the conclusion of our undergraduate years, the completion of a graduate level degree program, or – glimmering at horizon – a new job, opportunity, or challenge which will lead us away from the familiar into new realms.

However, an ending is not simply the dot at the end of a sentence. It is the decision to forsake one pathway in preference for another, and contrary to Frost, all paths may be the one less taken.

Several novelists have illustrated this trend during their writing careers. Charles Dickens is perhaps the most quickly thought of; Great Expectations’ dual conclusions stand as follows: Dickens’ original ending for the book features a remarried Estella and a bachelor Pip, while the more commonly printed ending culminates with the promise of Pip and Estella’s future union. The very ambiguity of the ending in Lois Lowry’s Newberry Award Winner, The Giver, leads readers to imagine multiple outcomes for Jonas: one, fatality by freezing; another, the start of a liberated life away from the society he has come to realize as restrictive and loveless.

Even if a writer winds up a final chapter and stops writing, the possibility of choice is always there; someday he’ll pick up the pen again, or she’ll keep mentally revising in a spent attempt to reach satisfaction with that last work.

As Shakespeare knew, where life ends, writing kicks in its bit of immortality. Text continues on – changing, being changed, refusing to be changed. So also do endings. We rewrite them all the time, we backtrack, we take the path we didn’t choose the first time. Endings don’t always signal a conclusion; they are not to be dreaded. Rather, they are to be embraced for the opportunity they provide, the new page they allow us to pick up with the sunrise.