"Far ahead on the road Elisa saw a dark speck. She knew."
John Steinbeck, "The Chrysanthemums"
A Rosebud Ending is a Twist Ending
and a Sudden Downer Ending
in which a sometimes-trivial discovery makes the main character and/or the viewer/reader realize that everything that happened previously meant something different than they had thought it did. They must re-interpret the entire story, which they now realize was tragic.
Usually found in movies or short fiction, due to the difficulty of writing longer works which have two parallel interpretations throughout. Sometimes inverted in conjunction with Back to Front
A twist which merely reveals new information about previous events, without changing the tone of the story dramatically, is not an instance of this trope. Contrast with The Ending Changes Everything
, which many instances of this trope have been filed under. The Ending Changes Everything "calls into question exactly how much of what you've seen was actually real", whereas in this trope, the discovery at the end does not change anyone's beliefs about what objective physical events took place during the story.
This is an ending trope; every entry is a spoiler.
- In the opening of Citizen Kane, Kane utters the Last Word "Rosebud" before dying. At the end of the movie, we discover Rosebud was the name of his boyhood sled - indicating that Kane's life of power and fame as a newspaper publisher, which took up most of the movie, never made him happy.
- Leonard, the protagonist of Memento, has anterograde amnesia, meaning he can form no new long-term memories. The film chronicles Leonard's efforts to have vengeance on his wife's killer, but its scenes are presented Back to Front, in reverse chronological order. In the last scene shown, which happened first, we learn that the man Leonard killed, who we earlier thought had killed Leonard's wife, was in fact an undercover officer who had already helped Leonard track down and kill his wife's killer.
- In The Chrysanthemums, by John Steinbeck, Elisa pays a traveling tinker to mend her pots after he admires her chrysanthemums and asks for a planting. At the end, she sees he dumped them by the side of the road, and realizes he only feigned interest to make a sale.
- "Miss Brill", by Katherine Mansfield, is a short story told from the viewpoint of an old woman attending a band performance in the park. Her regular attendance makes her feel like an essential part of the show and the community. At the very end, she overhears a young couple talking about her and sees how pathetic she looks from others' eyes.
- "Everything That Rises Must Converge," by Flannery O'Connor: Julian must accompany his mother on the bus, and spends the trip thinking of all the ways he despises and feels superior to her. She offends a black woman by offering her child a penny, and the woman assaults her. Julian is gleeful about her comeuppance until he discovers she's been fatally injured, and he suddenly realizes that he loves her.
- "In a Good Cause" by Isaac Asimov. A man spends his entire life trying to achieve peace and unity among humanity. He is constantly opposed by his childhood friend. In the end, the friend reveals that he was trying to achieve the same, but using methods that actually worked, instead of the other's blind idealism. As a twist, the friend then uses the idealist as a figurehead, aware that his own efficient but violent methods will not be understood by future generations, while his friend's idealism will be.
- Inverted in "Happy Ending" by Henry Kuttner, a Back to Front science-fiction short story. The beginning changes the meaning of everything chronologically after it, and discloses that the protagonist had had his memory wiped at the beginning of the story, and been fooled by the robot he was trying to take into custody into killing his own android.
- In Magic Knight Rayearth, three girls are summoned from Earth to become the Magic Knights (Magical Girls) and save the world of Cefiro. Princess Emeraude, who sustains the peace in Cefiro, appears to have been imprisoned by Zagato. After they kill Final Boss Zagato and free Emeraude, the Magic Knights discover that Emeraude had fallen in love with Zagato, and imprisoned herself to try to overcome this love. Not only did they kill a virtuous man, but Zagato's death enrages Emeraude and drives her to try to destroy the world of Cefiro, and the Magic Knights must slay her as well.