Guide to Literary Terms

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Climax

Climax - the moment in a play, novel, short story, or narrative poem at which the crisis comes to its point of greatest intensity and is resolved. It is also the peak of emotional response from a reader or spectator, and it usually represents the turning point in the action. Additionally, the term is used for the arrangement of words, clauses, or sentences in order of their importance, the least forcible coming first and the others rising in power until the last or, simply, the last term of the arrangement. Climax also means a culmination.

The word comes from the Greek klimax, meaning “a ladder,” and klinein, meaning “to slope, or slant.”

The climax of Beowulf is when Beowulf slays the mother of the monster, Grendel. Hardy’s Tess of the D’urbervilles (1891) climaxes when Tess murders Alec D’urberville, who has harassed and tormented her throughout the novel.

see: anticlimax, denouement