Harkins – Week 11

“I’m first!”

“But I’m last!”

One commonality between first and last sentences is that “‘last sentence,’ like ‘first sentence’ is both a formal and a content category” (Fish 122).  Considering this possibility of forms and content in either of these sentences, it can only be expected that there are infinite ways to present them.  From first sentences’ targets that are inspired in the reader–based off of the author’s aims for them–all the way to the use of literary devices in last sentences, there are endless possibilities of these alphas and omegas of writing.

Promissory notes was a simple way Fish described first sentences.  A further definition is, first sentences must “look forward to the development of thematic concerns it perhaps only dimly foreshadows”; they “know all about the sentences that will follow.”  They possess “an angle of lean,” meaning they tend to “lean forward and point to [the] future…they drwa readers in and equip them with quite specific expectations.”  Looking at a different “page” of first sentences, sometimes they involve arguments or pose problems–often by a “question…asked with an insistence difficult to ignore” (111).  Another side of first questions is how they may appear subtle, but suddenly propose a big idea, such as Leonard Michael’s first sentence of “Honeymoon,” which starts out with “One summer,” and wraps up by stating that a young woman (newly-wed) just fell in love with her waiter!

Contrary to prophetic-type first sentences, last sentences are rather “more constrained in their possibilities” (119).  They leave their reader with one final thoughts after sharing a barrage of sentences, paragraphs, and pages with them.  Understanding final sentences to their fullest often requires knowledge of the story, for instance, Hemingway’s last sentence, “Isn’t it pretty to think so?” in The Sun Also Rises is impossible to understand because “it” could mean anything to someone who didn’t read the book.  Literary devices, such as alliteration, are great for spicing up a last (or first) sentence. Fitzgerald’s last sentence in The Great Gatsby accentuates this: “So we beat on boats against current back ceaselessly into the past.”  Most final sentences are conclusive, however, Fish points out that they sometimes “deny us the comfort that sentences, especially last sentences, normally provide” (126).

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