What is Resolution in Literature?

Little Peter Pan
The resolution of Peter Pan ends with Hook sailing away. Iliana Mestari/Getty Images

The resolution is the part of a story's plot line in which the problem of the story is resolved or worked out. This occurs after the falling action and is typically where the story ends. Another term for the resolution is "denouement," which comes from the French term "denoue," meaning "to untie."

Usually, any questions or mysteries that arose during the story are answered in the resolution.  All stories have a resolution, even if the author doesn't disclose every last detail to the reader.

Literary Examples

Because every story has a resolution, whether in literature, a movie, or a play, examples of resolutions are ubiquitous. Since examples refer to the end of a story, they are also spoilers! If you're still working your way through any of these stories, make sure not to read the example given.

In J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan (also called Peter and Wendy and The Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up), the resolution occurs when Peter takes control of Captain Hook's ship and sails back to London. Once back at home, Wendy decides that her place is in London and then returns with all of the boys but Peter. Mrs. Darling agrees to adopt all of the Lost Boys and is overjoyed to see her children again.

1984 by George Orwell provides an example of a denouement in which Winston is sent to Room 101. Room 101 is where people must confront their worst fear, and O'Brien awaits Winston with a cage of his worst nightmare - rats.

Winston's spirit is finally broken as his fear overcomes him and he betrays Julia, abandoning his last bit of humanity in a final cry of surrender.

Another example is in Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man. Given its existentialist nature, the resolution here is somewhat unexpected and counter-intuitive. During riots that have broken out in Harlem, the narrator encounters Ras.

While running from Ras and the police, the narrator falls into a manhole and drops out of sight. While in the manhole, the narrator appreciates that no one is trying to define him, yet becomes lonely in isolation. 

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Flanagan, Mark. "What is Resolution in Literature?" ThoughtCo, Sep. 30, 2017, thoughtco.com/definition-of-resolution-851679. Flanagan, Mark. (2017, September 30). What is Resolution in Literature? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/definition-of-resolution-851679 Flanagan, Mark. "What is Resolution in Literature?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/definition-of-resolution-851679 (accessed June 18, 2018).