What is Climax? Definition, Examples of Climax of a Story

Definition of climax: The climax of a plot is the point at which the central conflict reaches the highest point of intensity. In a more general sense, the climax is any point of great intensity in a literary work.

What Does Climax Mean?

What is the climax of a story? In a story, the climax follows the rising action and precedes the falling action. It is the highest point of emotional intensity and the moment when the action of the story turns toward the conclusion.

Often the climax is recognized as the most exciting part of a story.

Examples of Climax:

  • In Romeo and Juliet, the climax is often recognized as being the moment when Romeo kills Tybalt. At this point, Romeo is doomed and the play begins the downfall of the young protagonist. This downfall eventually leads to his tragic death.
  • In Homer’s The Odyssey, the climax is when Odysseus passes the test of stringing the bow and stands before the suitors ready to attack. This climatic moment transitions into the falling action where Odysseus regains his kingdom.

The Function of Climax

what is a climax communityThe purpose of a climax is to transition from the rising action into the falling action. This transition happens in order to lead a story into a resolution.

Writers usually include a climax when writing a story that follows the basic plot structure of Freytag’s pyramid: exposition, inciting incident, rising action, climax, falling action, resolution, and dénouement.

Climax Examples in Literature

Here are some examples of climaxes found in literature:

  • In John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, the climax of the novella is when Lennie kills Curley’s wife. This is the highest point of emotional intensity in the story and leads to resolution of George making a decision regarding his dear friend.
  • In the short story “The Scarlet Ibis” by James Hurst, the climax occurs when the narrator and his young brother are caught in a storm. The younger brother yells for help and the narrator makes the decision to leave his brother behind in the storm.

Climax as a Stylistic Device

climax definition literatureOccasionally climax is used as a rhetorical device. In this case, it refers to the last, most important word or phrase in sentence that is organized from least to most important. This type of climax is most often used in poetry or speeches.

Examples of Climax as a Stylistic Device:

In Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream,” climax is used in his final sentence to build the intensity with his words:

  • “And when this happens and when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: ‘Free at last. Free at last. Thank God Almighty, we are free at last.’ ”

William Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 18” includes climax as a stylistic device in the ending couplet to emphasize the theme that through art a person’s beauty can be immortal:

  • “So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,/ So long lives this, and this gives life to thee”

Summary

Definition of climax: Climax is often identified as the highest point of interest in a story. It is the moment the rising action begins to transition in the falling action of the story’s plot. At this point, the conflict is at the highest point of tension.

Final example,

In Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov, the climax occurs when the main character, Humbert, discovers that the young girl he has been keeping hostage, Lolita, has escaped from him. This is the highest point of tension during the story and has been built up to through his paranoia of being followed and watched as they travel across the country.