“…[T]he stricken whale flew forward; with igniting velocity the line ran through the groove; – ran foul. Ahab stooped to clear it; and he did clear it; but the flying turn caught him round the neck, and voicelessly as Turkish mutes bowstring their victims, he was shot out of the boat, ere the crew knew he was gone.”
Ahab, from Moby Dick. What a way to go. Here’s another example of a perfect death. Why is it perfect?
It wraps up the novel.
Ahab died at the end of the novel but in such a way that it wraps it up nicely. It’s not a death that leaves the reader wishing he was alive. There’s not really any wriggle room here. Perhaps if a more redemptive narrative was weaved between the pages, then we may have seen this occur instead. Which leads me to the other reason it works. It doesn’t just wrap up the story.
It wraps up Ahab’s story.
Ahab is a man so totally consumed with the hunt that it destroys him. In the end the author has done such a great job destroying Ahab’s soul and spirit that it makes sense his body now dies as well, killed in the death throes of the object of his obsession. If you are creating a character that loses himself, and you have no intention of writing a redemptive thread back in to the novel, then a death is a perfectly good place to end. It fits the cold harsh reality of the being you just created.
The principle we can draw from this then is that death works when the character you have developed is worthy of death.