Rounding off lives

“Sontag points to literature’s essential allure — the comfort of appeasing our anxiety about life’s infinite possibility, about all the roads not taken and all the immensities not imagined that could have led to a better destination than our present one. A story, instead, offers the comforting finitude of both time and possibility:

Every fictional plot contains hints and traces of the stories it has excluded or resisted in order to assume its present shape. Alternatives to the plot ought to be felt up to the last moment. These alternatives constitute the potential for disorder (and therefore of suspense) in the story’s unfolding.


Endings in a novel confer a kind of liberty that life stubbornly denies us: to come to a full stop that is not death and discover exactly where we are in relation to the events leading to a conclusion.


The pleasure of fiction is precisely that it moves to an ending. And an ending that satisfies is one that excludes. Whatever fails to connect with the story’s closing pattern of illumination the writer assumes can be safely left out of the account.

A novel is a world with borders. For there to be completeness, unity, coherence, there must be borders. Everything is relevant in the journey we take within those borders. One could describe the story’s end as a point of magical convergence for the shifting preparatory views: a fixed position from which the reader sees how initially disparate things finally belong together.


The point Sontag makes is about the need for fiction to smoothly round off our lives without ambivalence about what next. Within the borders of a novel we experience a finality about our actions. But the other point she makes is about the complexity of our lives where every road taken has other roads not taken, where every life could have been different from what its present context and direction are leading to.

In fiction you enjoy the freedom of bringing everything to a close. In life there is no such certainty about anything. There is a coherence in fiction where everything is explainable in terms of what has taken place as events in the lives of the protagonists. Everything leads up to a denouement and the resolution of a conflict. In life there is no linear progression . Nothing flows from out of a patterned chain of events.

In the Indian epics Ramayana , the story proceeds on expected lines of a good triumphing over evil and in the end good triumphs over evil when the virtuous win their battles.But there is no finality about the end, which leaves you in a state of confusion. Why don’t the protagonist live happily ever after, one would ask but does not get a satisfactory answer.

In Ramayana the chief protagonist Rama punishes the demon abductor of his wife Sita and is duly crowned as the King of Ayodhya, having got her released from his confinement. But they do not live happily after. He leaves her in the jungle ,after a rumor hit the laity casting doubts about her chastity while in the abductor’s custody. And finally when they re-unite she enters the bowels of the earth and leaves him alone to rule the kingdom.

In this kind of story telling, ,art imitates life introducing the same ambiguity as in life, eliminating the comfort of a neat conclusion.


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