What is Anticlimax? Definition, Examples of Literary Anticlimax

Anticlimax definition: An anticlimax occurs when a there is a decline in emotionally intensity.

What is Anticlimax?

What does anticlimax mean? An anticlimax occurs when the emotional intensity declines from a high to a low point. This can occur within an event or even simply a sentence.

Examples of Anticlimax

A surprise raffle was being held at the local community center. Citizens bought tickets in handfuls and gossiped about what the prize could possibly be so secret. The time came to reveal and slowly a name was drawn from the bucket of hopeful tickets. “Janet,” exclaimed the announcer, “you’ve just won a brand new set of pencils!”

This situation could be described as anti-climatic because the emotional intensity builds about the surprise, but then it drops suddenly when the surprise is revealed to be simply pencils.

Modern Examples of Anticlimax

In the popular television show Dexter, the series finale could be described as anti-climatic. The premise of the show follows a heroic serial killer that preys on the villains of society. The episode builds in suspense as the viewer is unaware of what’s going to happen to Dexter who is at risk of being caught. Anti-climax occurs when the series ends with him simply choosing to become a mundane lumberjack.

At the end of the novel Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, the situation could be described as anti-climatic. Peeta and Katniss are the last two tributes left in a murderous battle that is a yearly tradition in their dystopia society. They decide to eat poisonous berries rather than kill the other in protest to the leaders in charge of this barbaric ritual. However, instead of it resulting in their suicides or a huge upheaval, the leaders simply shut the game down. Such a high point of emotional intensity is suddenly dropped to a low point resulting in an anti-climax.

The Function of an Anticlimax

There can be several reasons for an author to use anticlimax. It’s important for the author to identify his/her desired effect when employing such a device such as using it for humor or to build suspense.

When being used in sequels such as The Hunger Games, it often leaves room for the writer to build up to additional situations that are in need of high emotional intensity.

Examples of Anticlimax in Literature

In William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare uses anti-climax to create humor in a scene between Romeo and his cousin, Benvolio.

In the scene, Benvolio is attempting to identify the root of Romeo’s depression. He identifies that Romeo and lovesick and asks his cousin who he is in love with. Romeo replies, “in sadness, cousin, I do love a woman.” Benvolio is finally identifying what has been troubling his cousin and is so close to finding out who he is infatuated with, but Romeo just tells him he loves a girl.

This is anticlimactic because the emotional intensity has built up to the point where the reader believes Romeo will reveal who he loves, but instead it drops when he gives the obvious answer that he loves a woman.

In Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado,” anticlimax can be identified at the end of the story.

Montresor is burying his enemy, Fortunato, alive, and he states, “There came forth in return only a jingling of the bells…My heart grew sick; it was the dampness of the catacombs that made it so.”

The reader is horrified by the actions of Montresor because he is murdering a man without detailing any reason as to why it is deserved. The suspense builds as Fortunato is tricked into this death, and human nature compels the reader to wait for some remorse of hesitation from Montresor.

We think he is about to feel some regret when he says, “my heart grew sick”, but he reveals that this is just due to the conditions of the catacombs not due to committing murder. Such drop in emotional intensity is an example of anti-climax.


Define anticlimax in literature: Anticlimax is a rhetorical technique used by writers in which events or sentences build in emotional intensity and then suddenly drop to a lower emotional point. Writers use this device in order to create such effects such as humor or suspense.

Final Example:

In the popular film Kill Bill Volume 2, anticlimax can be described as anti-climatic because the woman who has been on a lengthy, two-volume quest to seek revenge on Bill is able to easily achieve this at the end of the second movie.