Foreshadowing is a literary device in which a writer gives an advance hint of what is to come later in the story.
Foreshadowing often appears at the beginning of a story or a chapter and helps the reader develop expectations about the coming events in a story. There are various ways of creating a foreshadowing. A writer may use dialogues of characters to hint at what may occur in future. In addition, any event or action in the story may throw a hint to the readers about future events or action. Even a title of a work or a chapter title can act as a clue that suggests what is going to happen. Foreshadowing in fiction creates an atmosphere of suspense in a story so that the readers are interested to know more.
Foreshadowing Examples in Literature
Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” is rich with foreshadowing examples. One of which is the following lines from Act 2, Scene 2:
“Life were better ended by their hate,
Than death prorogued, wanting of thy love”
In the balcony scene, Juliet is concerned about Romeo’s safety as she fears her kinsmen may catch him. Romeo says, in the above lines, that he would rather have her love and die sooner than not obtain her love and die later. Eventually, he gets her love and dies for her love, too.
Charles Dickens in “Great Expectations” uses a description of weather in chapter 39 to foreshadow the momentous changes in “Pip’s” life and outlook:
“Stormy and wet, stormy and wet; and mud, mud, mud, deep in all the streets. Day after day, a vast heavy veil had been driving over London from the East, and it drove still, as if in the East there were an Eternity of cloud and wind. So furious had been the gusts, that high buildings in town had had the lead stripped off their roofs; and in the country, trees had been torn up, and sails of windmills carried away; and gloomy accounts had come in from the coast, of shipwreck and death. Violent blasts of rain had accompanied these rages of wind, and the day just closed as I sat down to read had been the worst of all.”
The above lines are Pip’s observation on the weather before Magwitch’s arrival. It is a foreshadowing as well as a representation of Pip’s inner chaos. Just as the angry winds leaves a trail of destruction in London, Magwitch’s disclosure opens a path of destruction in Pip’s life.
Examples of foreshadowing are also found in mystery and detective stories. The kind of foreshadowing usually found in mystery or detective novels is “Red-Herring” – a misleading clue that distracts readers by giving them wrong hints about future events.
For example, the character of “Bishop Aringarosa” in “Da Vinci Code” by Dan Brown is shown to act in such a suspicious way that the readers are bound to suspect him to be the mastermind of the whole conspiracy in the church. His mysterious actions seemingly foreshadow the exposure of his crime in a later part of the narrative but later it was revealed that he was innocent and not involved in any secret action. Characters like Bishop Aringarosa contribute to the mystery and suspense of the novel.
In John Steinbeck’s novel “Of Mice and Men”, George killing Candy’s dog foreshadows George killing Lennie because Lennie is identical to the dog. Even the nature of the death of the dog was the same as Lennie’s as both were shot in the back of the head. He chooses to kill Lennie himself in order to save him from being killed by a stranger.
Function of Foreshadowing
Generally, the function of foreshadowing is to build anticipation in the minds of readers about what might happen next and thus adding dramatic tension to a story. It is deliberately employed to create suspense in mystery novels, usually by giving false clues or “red herrings” to distract readers.
Moreover, foreshadowing can make extraordinary and bizarre events appear credible as the events are predicted beforehand, so that readers are mentally prepared for them.