Guide to Literary Terms

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What is the definition of anticlimax?

The definition of anticlimax is an event that follows a sequence of escalating events but is less tense, conclusive, exciting, or significant than the events prior, often creating a subversion of expectations.

Anticlimax

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Last Updated on September 12, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 287

An anticlimax is an event that occurs after a sequence of escalating events but is less conclusive or significant than the prior events suggested it would be. In a narrative work, the anticlimax occurs at the point in the plot where the climax is expected. The writer subverts this expectation by including a ridiculous or trivial conclusion instead of a dramatic or logical one. 

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Anticlimax originates from the Greek words anti, which means “against,” and klimax, which translates literally to “ladder.” 

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William Wordsworth’s poem “Simon Lee: The Old Huntsman” demonstrates anticlimax. The first seven stanzas of Wordsworth’s poem provide information about the titular Simon Lee, which culminates in the first line of the eighth stanza, where Wordsworth states that Simon Lee will soon die:

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Latest answer posted January 25, 2010, 8:16 am (UTC)

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Few months of life has he in store

As he to you will tell,

For still, the more he works, the more

Do his weak ankles swell.

My gentle Reader, I perceive,

How patiently you’ve waited,

And now I fear that you expect

Some tale will be related.

 

O Reader! had you in your mind

Such stores as silent thought can bring,

O gentle Reader! you would find

A tale in every thing.

What more I have to say is short,

And you must kindly take it:

It is no tale; but, should you think,

Perhaps a tale you’ll make it.

 

(stanzas 8 and 9, lines 57–72)

Wordsworth has led the reader to expect the poem to transition into a story about Simon Lee that will impart a message, perhaps about life, wealth, or the passage of time. However, Wordsworth immediately subverts this expectation by explaining that he has no story to tell the reader about the poem’s subject.

see: climax

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