Identify the climax and the anticlimax in "The Far and the Near." Discuss the emotional and thematic impact of these two literary devices.

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Wolfe is able to utilize climax and anticlimax as ways to enhance his depiction of the human predicament in "The Far and the Near."  The use of climax is one in which Wolfe taps into the ever present aspect of hope within the construction of human identity.  When the engineer decides to approach the house with the mother and daughter, especially seeking to enhance the experience that he had felt for two decades, it becomes a moment of climax and building tension. Wolfe develops this in the hope and promise that the engineer has towards his approach of the woman's home.  The stepping off the platform, and the walking through the town are examples of the building tension in the moment. Wolfe uses language to accentuate this climactic feel of "the moment." This is seen in language such as the man walking "slowly in the heat and dust" and how he saw "the lordly oaks before the house, the flower beds, the garden and the arbor, and farther off, the glint of rails."   These experiences help to enhance the climax feel of the story.  The moment in which the engineer approaches the house is where this climax is felt as the pinnacle of human hope and anticipation:  "Yes, this was the house he sought, the place he had passed so many times, the destination he had longed for with such happiness."  Wolfe builds up the climax as a reflection of human hope in the desire to make something better.  There is a sense of optimism in the engineer, the realization of a vision he has had for some time.  It marks the emotional culmination of a life's hope.  It is representative of the theme of happiness that helps to fuel the engineer's actions.  There is a condition of happiness that enables the engineer to approach the house in the first place.  At the same time, this is also a uniquely human experience that combines curiosity with hope to transform what is into what can be.  The engineer has seen life from a distance and wishes to interact more closely with it, unaware that in touching it, he might actually corrupt it. 

This corruption of a pristine vision from a distance is what forms the anticlimax in Wolfe's work.  Wolfe uses the anticlimactic feel of the work to enhance the condition of regret and pain that is intrinsic to human consciousness.  There is an undercutting of hope as a result of experience.  The pain of the modern setting becomes one where hope and possibility are blunted by reality and practicality.  This is a world in which the temporal silences transformative potential. The climax of approaching the gate is something that Wolfe undercuts with the reality of anticlimax to illuminate this experience:

But now that he had found it, now that he was here, why did his hand falter on the gate; why had the town, the road, the earth, the very entrance to this place he loved turned unfamiliar as the landscape of some ugly dream? Why did he now feel this sense of confusion, doubt and hopelessness? 

Anticlimax is evident in the "falter" and the reality of "confusion, doubt and hopelessness" that undercuts any potential hope for happiness. This becomes part of the emotional impact of the engineer and in the human experience of wanting more, being attached to something more, than what is.  The ending of the story is one that reminds us of the pain within such a condition: 

His heart, which had been brave and confident when it looked along the familiar vista of the rails, was now sick with doubt and horror as it saw the strange and unsuspected visage of the earth which had always been within a stone’s throw of him, and which he had never seen or known. And he knew that all the magic of that bright lost way, the vista of that shining line, the imagined corner of that small good universe of hope’s desire, could never be got again.

The theme of regret is evident within such an ending.  The engineer recognizes that "hope's desire" is forever lost to him, and is replaced with "doubt and horror."  It is this particular condition that makes the theme and emotional experience in the anticlimax of the story so very effective.

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