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Examine the endings (with close attention to the last ‘scene’ and the last paragraph) of at least three 20c. short stories and consider how the author handles them and their relation to the story as a whole.

The art of ending short stories has been hotly contested for centuries. As humans we naturally desire firm conclusions that tie up the story’s various loose threads and leave us with a sense of satisfaction. Many writers, in modern times, have tried to challenge this convention, preferring to leave endings open for interpretation and development of thought. This is connected with the developing idea that a short story is, in essence, a brief glimpse into a character’s life. In this sense, there is a future outside of the ending, which negates the requirement for an effective conclusion.

Flannery O’Connor is an example of a modern writer who sought to challenge the conventions of a story’s ending. Her tale, ‘Everything That Rises Must Converge,’ is told from the perspective of Julian, a college graduate who is being supported by his mother while he seeks employment. The plot revolves around a ride on an integrated bus, and the crisis point comes in the form of a confrontation between Julian’s mother and a black woman wearing the same hat. Julian repeatedly conveys his wish to be rid of his mother, going so far as to dream about her being seriously ill. Despite this, his reaction upon her stroke shows exactly how dependant he is on her: ‘His voice was thin, scarcely a thread of sound. (p23)’ We find ourselves empathising with Julian’s mother, despite her apparent racism. Her desire to offer the black woman’s child a penny is kind, and we find ourselves questioning the black woman’s resentment towards the goodwill gesture. Julian’s mother, like Julian and the black woman, is an outcome of the societal conventions in which she was raised, and in some ways this...

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