Ever read the final chapter of a book only to turn the page and be met with something called an "epilogue"? (I'm guessing yes since you're reading this!) An epilogue is a useful literary device that many authors and playwrights like to use in their works.
In this guide, we'll give you the epilogue definition, explain the various purposes of epilogues in literature, provide you with real epilogue examples, and go over four useful tips for writing your very own epilogue.
What Is an Epilogue? Overview
Let's start by going over the epilogue definition.
An epilogue is a concluding section (essentially an extra chapter) that comes at the very end of a piece of literature, usually a novel or play. It comes after the final chapter of a story and is typically titled simply "Epilogue" (though sometimes it's referred to as a chapter).
Epilogues still take place within the story; however, they're presented in such a way that they're mostly meant to wrap up any loose ends and answer any remaining questions the reader might have after finishing the final chapter.
But why even have an epilogue? Why not just make it the last chapter of a book?
Oftentimes epilogues don't take place within the same time frame as the main story and don't quite fit with the structure of the narrative as a whole.
For example, you might see an epilogue that happens months, or even years, after the official end of the story. In this sense, epilogues are designed more to give the reader a sense of closure when it comes to the characters and/or events that took place in the main narrative.
Epilogues can also be used to tease the suggestion of a sequel.
To summarize, here are the main purposes of an epilogue:
- Wrap up any loose ends and offer a more emotionally satisfying conclusion
- Satisfy the reader's curiosity about what happens next or later in the story
- Set up a sequel or other continuation of the story
Speaking of epilogues, you might've heard of a prologue, which is the opposite of an epilogue: it's the part of a story that comes before the first chapter and is used to set up events and characters. In other words, it provides essential background information to the reader.
Epilogue vs Afterword: How Do They Differ?
While epilogues and afterwords both come at the end of books, they are not identical.
An epilogue, as discussed above, is a continuation of the story that gives more direct closure to the characters and/or events from the main narrative.
In contrast, an afterword is an author note at the end of a text that details things such as what kind of research the author did when writing their book, events that have happened since writing the book or since its first publication, what inspired the book, etc. In addition, the afterword is always written in the author's voice and is not part of the story.
Here's an overview of how the epilogue differs from other similar literary devices:
Beginning of book (before prologue, if one)
To introduce the reader to the book and author
Usually someone credible and famous who is not the author
Beginning of book (after foreword, if one)
To provide critical background information or details for the main story
Author (perspective within story)
End of book (before afterword, if one)
To wrap up loose ends and bring closure to the main story
Author (perspective within story)
End of book (after epilogue, if one)
To discuss details of the book, such as how it came to be or what kind of research the author did
Author (perspective outside story)
Wanna bet how many of these books have epilogues?
3 Famous Epilogue Examples From Literature
In this section, we give you some famous epilogue examples from literature to give you a clearer idea of what an epilogue can look like.
Epilogue Example 1: George Orwell's Animal Farm (1945)
George Orwell's famous dystopian novel Animal Farm is an allegory for the events that came before the Russian Revolution in the early 20th century. The epilogue, presented as Chapter X, elaborates on what happened several years later to the animals that supported the revolution:
Years passed. The seasons came and went, the short animal lives fled by. A time came when there was no one who remembered the old days before the Rebellion, except Clover, Benjamin, Moses the raven, and a number of the pigs.
It then goes on to tell us how, inevitably, the pigs in charge of the farm—and who once presented themselves as righteous liberators—are now totally indistinguishable from their formerly "evil" human dictators:
Twelve voices were shouting in anger, and they were all alike. No question, now, what had happened to the faces of the pigs. The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.
This chilling epilogue resonates with what has happened with revolutions in history, such as the French Revolution, wherein Napoleon Bonaparte started out as a justice-driven liberator only to wind up a dictatorial emperor.
Thus, the epilogue drives home the idea that what we feared would happen with the animals on the farm does, in fact, ultimately occur.
Epilogue Example 2: Herman Melville's Moby Dick (1851)
Herman Melville's Moby Dick is a classic tale of vengeance. In this book, the narrator, Ishmael, is a sailor who joins a whaling crew led by the mysterious Captain Ahab, who lost his leg to the titular sperm whale, Moby Dick.
The novel ends with the sinking of the ship and everyone on board dying—everyone, that is, except Ishmael, who we quickly discover survived in the short epilogue that follows:
"AND I ONLY AM ESCAPED ALONE TO TELL THEE" Job.
The drama's done. Why then here does any one step forth?—Because one did survive the wreck.
It so chanced, that after the Parsee's disappearance, I was he whom the Fates ordained to take the place of Ahab's bowsman, when that bowsman assumed the vacant post; the same, who, when on the last day the three men were tossed from out of the rocking boat, was dropped astern. So, floating on the margin of the ensuing scene, and in full sight of it, when the halfspent suction of the sunk ship reached me, I was then, but slowly, drawn towards the closing vortex. When I reached it, it had subsided to a creamy pool. Round and round, then, and ever contracting towards the button-like black bubble at the axis of that slowly wheeling circle, like another Ixion I did revolve. Till, gaining that vital centre, the black bubble upward burst; and now, liberated by reason of its cunning spring, and, owing to its great buoyancy, rising with great force, the coffin life-buoy shot lengthwise from the sea, fell over, and floated by my side. Buoyed up by that coffin, for almost one whole day and night, I floated on a soft and dirgelike main. The unharming sharks, they glided by as if with padlocks on their mouths; the savage sea-hawks sailed with sheathed beaks. On the second day, a sail drew near, nearer, and picked me up at last. It was the devious-cruising Rachel, that in her retracing search after her missing children, only found another orphan.
This epilogue works to comfort the reader by bringing a much-desired sense of closure to what ultimately happened to our trusty narrator: unlike the others involved in the attack on Moby Dick, Ishmael is fortunate enough to survive by staying afloat on a coffin (poetic, eh?).
We can therefore only wonder as to how this entire experience affected Ishmael.
Poor Moby didn't mean to kill (almost) everyone, though!
Epilogue Example 3: William Shakespeare's As You Like It (1599-1600)
One of William Shakespeare's most popular comedies, As You Like It revolves around a woman, Rosalind, who finds refuge in a forest with her cousin and disguises herself as a shepherd boy named Ganymede.
The play's epilogue is somewhat different from the examples above in that Rosalind is speaking directly to the audience. In Shakespeare's time, female characters rarely performed epilogues—a fact that's recognized by even Rosalind herself as she makes her appeal to the audience:
It is not the fashion to see the lady the epilogue;
but it is no more unhandsome than to see the lord
the prologue. If it be true that good wine needs
no bush, 'tis true that a good play needs no
epilogue; yet to good wine they do use good bushes,
and good plays prove the better by the help of good
epilogues. What a case am I in then, that am
neither a good epilogue nor cannot insinuate with
you in the behalf of a good play! I am not
furnished like a beggar, therefore to beg will not
become me: my way is to conjure you; and I'll begin
with the women. I charge you, O women, for the love
you bear to men, to like as much of this play as
please you: and I charge you, O men, for the love
you bear to women—as I perceive by your simpering,
none of you hates them—that between you and the
women the play may please. If I were a woman I
would kiss as many of you as had beards that pleased
me, complexions that liked me and breaths that I
defied not: and, I am sure, as many as have good
beards or good faces or sweet breaths will, for my
kind offer, when I make curtsy, bid me farewell.
This epilogue doesn't take place within the story, per se, but it still comes from a character within it. In this sense, Shakespeare's epilogue is breaking the fourth wall by transcending the bounds of the play so that Rosalind, the central protagonist, can speak to and interact directly with the audience.
How to Write an Epilogue: 4 Essential Tips
Working on your own story and considering adding an epilogue to it? Then you'll definitely want to read these four tips for writing a great epilogue.
#1: Make Sure Your Story Will Benefit From an Epilogue
Before you start working on your epilogue, be sure that your story could actually use one. What do I mean by this? As you know, not all books have epilogues; in fact, the vast majority do not have one.
This is primarily because, nowadays, epilogues are often thought to be a bit too on the nose—they aren't generally viewed as necessary and can be interpreted as "spoon-feeding" the reader, as Reedsy notes on its blog. As such, it's imperative that you are certain your epilogue will work for your story.
For example, if you were writing a romance, you'd probably want to tie up loose ends with a happy, fulfilling conclusion, which could very well take the form of an epilogue.
On the other hand, you likely wouldn't want an epilogue if you'd prefer your story to retain a sense of mystery or ambiguity at the end (after all, you could be setting it up for a sequel!).
#2: Figure Out the Purpose of Your Epilogue
All epilogues must serve a purpose, just as any other scene in a story should, so check that you're writing your epilogue for the appropriate reason(s).
Here are some good reasons to write an epilogue:
- You want to further develop your characters in a way you can't in the main narrative—this often ends up as a glimpse into the future and a way to examine how the events in the novel have impacted characters' lives
- You want to introduce a new plot or foreshadowing to hint at a forthcoming installment
- You want to release tension that remained after the climax—you can do this by revealing a character's whereabouts, for instance (Melville did this in Moby Dick, as we discussed above)
Now, here are some reasons to not write an epilogue:
- You're worried that your ending is too ambiguous—this can be a good thing, especially if you want the possibility of a sequel to your work
- You want your readers to know absolutely everything—readers do not need a conclusion for every tiny detail, so do not feel pressured to include an epilogue if this is your only reason (or, rather, fear); it's good to leave a little to the imagination!
Also, know that it's perfectly fine to have more than one reason for wanting to write an epilogue—just as long as they're all the right ones!
#3: Keep the Point of View Consistent
Epilogues are still chapters in a book and should therefore flow naturally with the rest of the story. This means that it's important to not introduce a change in the point of view or perspective.
In other words, if you've had one character narrating the entire time, it's usually best to keep that character the narrator in the epilogue as well. An abrupt shift in perspective could confuse the reader and make your epilogue stand out unnaturally.
#4: Give a Subtle Nod to Your Work's Main Theme(s)
No matter what purpose you have for writing your epilogue, it's always a smart idea to include some (subtle) emphasis on the overarching theme or idea.
For instance, the epilogue in Orwell's Animal Farm serves to remind us of the inevitable hypocrisy and horrors associated with many revolutions, a theme that's present throughout the allegorical work as a whole.
You don't need to make your theme overly apparent in your epilogue—just enough so that the reader can get a taste for what you've been hinting at all along.
Recap: What Is an Epilogue and How Can You Write One?
We've covered a lot here, so let's start by once more going over the basic epilogue definition. What is an epilogue? An epilogue is a concluding section or chapter to a work of literature. It always comes at the very end of a work, if present. Epilogues are written by the author but take place within the main story.
The purpose of an epilogue is to tie up loose ends and to satisfy the reader's curiosity about what happens next or later in the story.
An epilogue differs from an afterword, which is normally written from the author's perspective and gives details on stuff such as what inspired the work, what research the author did, etc.
When it comes to writing your own epilogue, we recommend keeping in mind these four tips:
- Make sure your story will benefit from an epilogue
- Figure out the purpose of your epilogue
- Keep the point of view consistent
- Give a subtle nod to your work's main theme(s)
Now, get out there and write that epilogue (or not)!
Are you struggling to find unique ways to attribute dialogue in your writing? Our list of 200+ synonyms for "said" is a great place to start!
Have friends who also need help with test prep? Share this article!
Hannah received her MA in Japanese Studies from the University of Michigan and holds a bachelor's degree from the University of Southern California. From 2013 to 2015, she taught English in Japan via the JET Program. She is passionate about education, writing, and travel.