Flash-forward or prolepsis is a literary device in which the plot goes ahead of time i.e. a scene that interrupts and takes the narrative forward in time from the current time in a story.
Generally, a flash-forward represents expected or imagined events in the future interjected in the main plot revealing the important parts of the story that are yet to occur. It is an opposite of flashback or analepsis (reveals past events).
Difference between Flash-Forward and Foreshadowing
Flash-forward is similar to foreshadowing. However, foreshadowing hints at the possible outcome in future without any interruption and using events or dialogues of characters in the current time. It may also be present in the titles of narratives or chapter titles. Flash-forward, on the other hand, is an interjected scene in a narrative that takes the narrative forward in time. The events presented in a flash-forward are bound to happen in the story. Foreshadowing predicts the future events, but the events do not necessarily take place in the future – as in “red-herring”.
Flash-Forward Examples in Literature
Let us look at some famous examples of flash-forward in literature below:
Flash-forward is essentially a postmodern narrative device but there are a few flash-forward examples in early literature.
Charles Dickens’ “Christmas Carol” depicts Scrooge in a flash-forward. The tightfisted and ill-tempered Scrooge is visited by the “Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come” who shows him his future. Scrooge sees himself dead, and people finding comfort and happiness in his death. No one mourns his death and the people he ruined in his life stole his wealth. He sees Mrs. Dilber, his housekeeper, selling his property to junkmen and friends. The only one touched by his death is a young and poor couple. His only legacy is a cheap tombstone in a graveyard. He weeps on his own grave and asks the third ghost of Christmas to give him a chance to change himself. He wakes up and finds that he is back on the Christmas morning of the present. Scrooge repents and becomes kind and generous.
“So the two brothers and their murder’d man
Rode past fair Florence,”
(Isabella by John Keats)
These lines show a future event as if it has already happened. “Lorenzo” is called “their murdered man” takes the character to the time of future when the two brothers of his beloved “Isabella” will assassinate him.
In Stephen king’s novel “The Dead Zone”, the hero receives a special power of predicting the future after a car crash. Through physical contact, he sees the future of a person. After some time, he feels cursed with the gift. Like when he shakes hands with a politician and flash-forwards to the future, he sees a nuclear war. He says:
“If you knew Hitler was going to do what he did to the Jews, would you kill him before he had the chance?”
“The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie” by Muriel Spark makes extensive use of the narrative technique of flash-forward. The story takes place at Marcia Blaine School where six girls are handed over to Miss Brodie.
In the very beginning of the novel, Spark tells us that Miss Brodie is betrayed. He then gradually reveals the betrayer and, finally, reveals all the details related to the event. Similarly, he introduces “Joyce Emily” as the rejected girl from the “Brodie set” and later tells us the reasons.
Function of Flash-Forward
Flash-forward enables a writer to give logical explanations to the actions of the characters in a narrative. The character’s actions make more sense to the readers – after having developed a greater understanding of the character and the character’s personality.
Moreover, flash-forward grabs the readers’ interest in the current events of the narrative to see how the story develops towards the future that has already been shown to them.