What Is a Rhetorical Climax?

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

Woman at Highest Point of Mountain
The term climax is also commonly used to refer to the high point of a narrative—the point of greatest importance or intensity.

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In rhetoric, climax means mounting by degrees through words or sentences of increasing weight and in parallel construction (see auxesis), with an emphasis on the high point or culmination of an experience or series of events.

Also known as anabasis, ascensus, and the marching figure.

A particularly forceful type of rhetorical climax is achieved through anadiplosis and gradatio, sentence constructions in which the last word(s) of one clause becomes the first of the next.


  • "Out of its vivid disorder comes order; from its rank smell rises the good aroma of courage and daring; out of its preliminary shabbiness comes the final splendor. And buried in the familiar boasts of its advance agents lies the modesty of most of its people." (E. B. White, "The Ring of Time")
  • "It may, perhaps, be fairly questioned, whether any other portion of the population of the earth could have endured the privations, sufferings and horrors of slavery, without having become more degraded in the scale of humanity than the slaves of African descent. Nothing has been left undone to cripple their intellects, darken their minds, debase their moral stature, obliterate all traces of their relationship to mankind; and yet how wonderfully they have sustained the mighty load of a most frightful bondage, under which they have been groaning for centuries!" (Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, 1845)
  • "My brother need not be idealized, or enlarged in death beyond what he was in life; to be remembered simply as a good and decent man, who saw wrong and tried to right it, saw suffering and tried to heal it, saw war and tried to stop it.
    "Those of us who loved him and who take him to his rest today, pray that what he was to us and what he wished for others will some day come to pass for all the world." (Edward M. Kennedy, Tribute to Senator Robert F. Kennedy, June 8, 1968)
  • "This is the Court of Chancery; which has its decaying houses and its blighted lands in every shire; which has its worn-out lunatic in every madhouse, and its dead in every churchyard; which has its ruined suitor, with his slipshod heels and threadbare dress, borrowing and begging through the round of every man's acquaintance; which gives to monied might, the means abundantly of wearying out the right; which so exhausts finances, patience, courage, hope; so overthrows the brain and breaks the heart; that there is not an honourable man among its practitioners who would not give--who does not often give--the warning, 'Suffer any wrong that can be done you, rather than come here!'" (Charles Dickens, Bleak House, 1852)
  • "There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, 'When will you be satisfied?' We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro's basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their self-hood and robbed of their dignity by a sign stating 'For Whites Only.' We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream." (Martin Luther King, Jr., "I Have a Dream." August 28, 1963)
  • "When we send our young men and women into harm’s way, we have a solemn obligation not to fudge the numbers or shade the truth about why they’re going, to care for their families while they’re gone, to tend to the soldiers upon their return, and to never ever go to war without enough troops to win the war, secure the peace, and earn the respect of the world." (Barack Obama, "The Audacity of Hope," 2004 Democratic National Convention Keynote Address)

The Lighter Side of a Rhetorical Climax

"'There are only three things I really care about,' [Arthur Merivale] added, with the air of one who is half in jest.
"'They are?'
"'Cricket—and a career—and—and you!' ...
"[Muriel] picked another plum and continued chaffing him.
"'It's really nice to know for certain that you approve of me. Still you are dreadfully, painfully honest. Just think where I come in the scale of your affections! First the bat, then the bar, and then—poor me!'
"She laughed brightly at his discomfiture.
"'But the scale was crescendo,' he pleaded. 'You was a rhetorical climax.'"
(Cecil Headlam, The Marriage of Mr. Merivale. Knickerbocker Press, 1901)

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Nordquist, Richard. "What Is a Rhetorical Climax?" ThoughtCo, Feb. 16, 2021, thoughtco.com/what-is-climax-rhetoric-1689853. Nordquist, Richard. (2021, February 16). What Is a Rhetorical Climax? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-climax-rhetoric-1689853 Nordquist, Richard. "What Is a Rhetorical Climax?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-climax-rhetoric-1689853 (accessed June 9, 2023).