Zelig by Benjamin Rosenblatt, 1915
The magic trick:
Using an ambiguous final paragraph to invite reexamination of the entire story
Everything is simple and straightforward for most of this story, in a very old-school way. We don’t get a lot of description. We don’t get to know an array of characters. Instead, we have your basics: our central character has a very clear-cut conflict.
The resolution in the last paragraph, however, changes that. Or maybe it was never such a simple conflict in the first place. The last paragraph can be taken a number of different ways and invites reexamination of the entire story. And that’s quite a trick on Rosenblatt’s part.
“See what you have made of us, of the poor child,” she often argued, pointing to the almost grown grandson. “Since he left school, he works for you, and what will be the end?”
At this, Zelig’s heart would suddenly clutch, as if conscious of some indistinct, remote fear. His answers touching the grandson were abrupt, incoherent, as of one who replies to a question unintelligible to him, and is in constant dread lest his interlocutor should detect it.