Foreshadowing is giving a hint that something is going to happen. This is done by showing certain events, people or information that are an indication of something that will occur later on in the story. Foreshadowing can add tension or expectation to the narrative.
Common Examples of Foreshadowing
- Sometimes a future event is mentioned earlier in the story, like a comment about a meeting between characters. The reader already knows that that there are issues that will discussed.
- A pre-scene shows something that will reoccur. For example, in a western movie, the good guy enters a bar, has a drink, and leaves. The bad guy scowls and spits on the floor and you know there is definitely more to come between them.
- Heightened concern is also used to foreshadow events. A child leaves the house and the parent is overly concerned about them. The child tells the parent not to worry, that everything will be fine. Readers will see this worry as a precursor to danger coming soon.
- A gun is a sign of upcoming events. Sometimes it will be hidden in a drawer or glove compartment.
- Worry or apprehension of a character also foreshadows. This may be shown with facial expressions, gestures, or words. At this point the readers don’t know what is wrong, but they anticipate finding out.
- A character’s thoughts can foreshadow. For example, “I told myself this is the end of my trouble, but I didn’t believe myself.”
- Narration can foreshadow by telling you something is going to happen. Details are often left out, but the suspense is created to keep interest. For examples, the character wakes up and the narration talks about how this is going to be the longest day of his life.
- Predictions can obviously foreshadow. Examples are the character losing a talisman or reading her horoscope.
- Symbolism is often used for foreshadowing. This might be a lone animal, like a bird, or storm clouds.
Foreshadowing in Literature
- “The leaves fell early that year.” This is a line in Ernest Hemingway’s opening line of A Farewell to Arms that foreshadows an early death.
- Charles Dickens in Great Expectations uses the weather to show Pip’s angst: “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.”
- In Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” Romeo says he prefers to die sooner than live without Juliet’s love: “Life were better ended by their hate, Than death prorogued, wanting of thy love”
- In the fairy tale, Little Red Riding Hood, the mother is concerned for her safety and that foreshadows the appearance of the big bad wolf.
- In Macbeth by Shakespeare, witches are an omen of future bad things.
Foreshadowing in Movies
- At the beginning of The Wizard of Oz, Miss Gulch is shown changing into a witch, clearly showing what is yet to come.
- In The Lord of the Rings, Bilbo’s pity is foreshadowed: Frodo: What a pity that Bilbo did not stab that vile creature, when he had a chance! Gandalf: Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgment. For even the very wise cannot see all ends.
- In Jaws, two characters talk about the fact that scuba tanks are combustible: "Yeah, that's real fine expensive gear you brought out here, Mr. Hooper." sneers Quint. "Course, I don't know what that bastard shark's gonna do with it. Might eat it I suppose." This foreshadows the shark biting the shark and being blown up.
- In Fatal Attraction, Glenn Close’s character says, "Just bring the dog over," she says. "I'm great with animals and I love to cook." This foreshadows her killing the rabbit by cooking it.
- In Avatar, Grace says, "I'd die to get a sample", referring to the Tree of Souls. Later she is wounded and is taken to the tree and says, "I should get a sample."
- In Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade, when Donavan says that they are a few steps away from the Grail, Indy says, "that's usually where the ground falls out from underneath your feet." Later, there is an earthquake when they find the Grail.
- In The Empire Strikes Back, Luke sees his own face under Vader’s mask when he was on Dagobah. Later, he finds out Vader is his father.
- In Gran Torino, Walt read his horoscope that foretells a sudden life change. Then the Hmong girl invites him to dinner with her family.
By reviewing examples of foreshadowing you can see that they are used in many different mediums.