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 a story. Foreshadowing can add tension or expectation to the narrative. Review a selection of foreshadowing examples to get a better understanding of this often-used literary device.
Common Examples of Foreshadowing
Foreshadowing occurs any time a future event is somehow alluded to or suggested as a future occurrence earlier in a story.
- Sometimes a future event is mentioned earlier in the story, like a comment about a meeting between characters. The reader already knows that issues will be discussed later.
- 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 the 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 readers interested. For example, the character wakes up and the narrator 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, such as a bird or a wolf. Storm clouds are also used often.
Foreshadowing in Literature
Authors often use foreshadowing as a literary device. There are many examples of foreshadowing in literature.
- “The leaves fell early that year.” This line in the opening of Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms foreshadows an early death.
- In Great Expectations Charles Dickens 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 daughter's safety. Her concern foreshadows the appearance of the big bad wolf.
- In Macbeth by Shakespeare, the witches are an omen of future bad things. They foreshadow the evil that is to come.
- In To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus foreshadows his own future actions when explains "real courage" to his children. He says, "It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what." He, of course, takes Tom's court case not because he thinks he can win, but because it is the courageous and correct thing to do.
- In Charlotte's Web, when Charlotte cautions the barn rat against breaking the goose egg and he insists the egg is safe, this is an example of foreshadowing. Later in the story, the egg does in fact break.
- In Great Expectations, the man in the pub who gives money to Pip foreshadows the character's later windfall. It foreshadows that Pip will later receive a fortune from Magwitch.
- At the beginning of the Great Gatsby, Tom foreshadows the tragedy to come when he describes the title character's quest to reach the green light without being able to take hold, then notes that Gatsby has disappeared into "the unquiet darkness.” This sets the stage for Gatsby's ongoing quest for the unreachable that comes to a tragic end.
Foreshadowing in Movies
Foreshadowing is very common in movies. It often occurs through dialogue and symbolism, like with literature. Musical foreshadowing is also common 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 tank.
- The menacing music in Jaws is also an example of foreshadowing. It always plays just before the shark arrives on the scene.
- In Fatal Attraction, Glenn Close’s character says, "Just bring the dog over. 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's horoscope foretells a sudden life change. Then the Hmong girl invites him to dinner with her family.
Reviewing examples of foreshadowing helps you see that it is used in many different mediums. The more you become aware of how this literary device is used, the easier it will be for you to recognize it when you see it. Seeing how other authors use it can also help you better use foreshadowing in your own creative writing efforts. For more ways to improve your writing, discover how to write realistic dialogue. From there, explore how active voice can add impact to your writing.