What Does The Literary Device Foreshadowing Mean
Foreshadowing is a literary device in which the author hints what is to come. Foreshadowing is created by giving hints and clues about the events and actions that are going to take place in the story. It often includes using indicative phrases and clauses, without revealing the story or spoiling the story.
Foreshadowing can be very subtle. Oftentimes, you won’t really note foreshadowing in the first reading itself. Once you have read the ending of the story, certain dialogues, events can be interpreted as foreshadowing. For example, in the Shakespeare’s famous play, Macbeth, the three witches at the first scene foreshadow evil and gloom. The prophecies of the witches also foreshadow the events of the future.
Foreshadowing is often employed in literary work to prepare the readers for some shocking twist in the story; it is also used to shift the mood of the story. Foreshadowing is also frequently used in mystery and thriller genres. Sometimes writers use a red herring to mislead the readers.
Examples of Foreshadowing in Literature
“…for my mind misgives
Some consequence, yet hanging in the stars,
Shall bitterly begin his fearful date
With this night’s revels and expire the term
Of a despised life, clos’d in my breast,
By some vile forfeit of untimely death.”
In this quote, Romeo is describing a feeling of foreboding that has come over him. This foreshadows the tragic fate that befalls him.
“The night was still. I could hear his breath coming easily beside me. Occasionally there was a sudden breeze that hit my bare legs, but it was all that remained of a promised windy night. This was the stillness before a thunderstorm.”
—Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird
Author’s reference to the weather, “stillness before a thunderstorm” creates a sense of foreboding in the readers and these lines indicate that something bad is going to happen.
“Bobby Martin had already stuffed his pockets full of stones, and the other boys soon followed his example, selecting the smoothest and roundest stones; Bobby and Harry Jones and Dickie Delacroix– the villagers pronounced this name “Dellacroy”–eventually made a great pile of stones in one corner of the square and guarded it against the raids of the other boys.”
– Shirley Jackson, The lottery
Jackson uses foreshadowing as one of the main literary devices of the story. This short story describes a village which observes an annual ritual named the lottery. The author gives a lot of detail about the villagers’ behavior, the choosing of the lottery winner. But it is only at the very last passage that it is revealed that the lottery winner is killed by stoning as a sacrifice. Therefore, many of the details, including the above lines, turn out to be examples of foreshadowing.
“I was six when my mother taught me the art of invisible strength. It was a strategy for winning arguments, respect from others, and eventually, though neither of us knew it at the time, chess games.”
—Amy Tan, “Rules of the Game.”
In the above example, the author directly gives a clue about what is to happen in the story. Although the characters do not know what is going to happen, the readers know that what the narrator has learned from her mother will help her later when she plays Chess.