Foreshadowing in literature is used to create suspense or mood, to hint at upcoming events or plot twists, or to reveal important character traits. Foreshadowing can be created by the narrator or the characters themselves, through descriptions and dialogue. Foreshadowing can also be created by shifting the plot structure of a narrative and using flashbacks or flash-forwards to relay important information about past or future events to the audience.
10 Examples of Foreshadowing in Literature
To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
“The weather was unusually warm for the last day of October. We didn’t even need jackets. The wind was growing stronger, and Jem said it might be raining before we got home. There was no moon. The street light on the corner cast sharp shadows on the Radley house… We turned off the road and entered the schoolyard. It was pitch black.”
Scout’s description of her and Jem’s journey to the school for the Halloween pageant creates a mood of suspense and fear, foreshadowing the fateful events that will come later. The night is very dark with no moon; the only shadows come from streetlights which cause shadows on Boo Radley’s house, the source of the neighborhood children’s legends and fears. Scout and Jem are having a difficult time walking to the school because it is so dark, and Jem didn’t bring a flashlight because he didn’t realize it would be so dark. When they leave the pageant, they are the last ones out of the school, and the night is even darker. Footsteps follow the children, and eventually they are attacked by Bob Ewell who finally makes good on his threats to get back at Atticus for embarrassing him in court.
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
“A great event in my life, the turning point of my life, now opens on my view. But, before I proceed to narrate it, and before I pass on to all the changes it involved, I must give one chapter to Estella. It is not much to give to the theme that so long filled my heart.”
Pip narrates his tale from the present so most of the novel is told in a flashback format. Here, Pip is relating the turning point of his life, foreshadowing that there are many changes that are upcoming soon, right after he gets through discussing Estella again. The tone which Pip uses here to tell the reader about the upcoming events foreshadows that Pip’s relationship with Estella does not work out, and that the changes he undergoes aren’t necessarily pleasant ones.
The Cask of Amontillado by Edgar Allan Poe
“The thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne as I best could, but when he ventured upon insult I vowed revenge. You, who so well know the nature of my soul, will not suppose, however, that I gave utterance to a threat. At length I would be avenged; this was a point definitely settled–but the very definitiveness with which it was resolved precluded the idea of risk. I must not only punish but punish with impunity. A wrong is unredressed when retribution overtakes its redresser. It is equally unredressed when the avenger fails to make himself felt as such to him who has done the wrong. It must be understood that neither by word nor deed had I given Fortunato cause to doubt my good will. I continued, as was my wont, to smile in his face, and he did not perceive that my smile now was at the thought of his immolation.”
This chilling opening by the narrator, Montressor, to the audience reveals a terrifying foreshadowing of vengeance and murder for Fortunato. Montressor reveals that Fortunato has insulted him in a way that can never be forgiven, and he has decided to make sure that Fortunato will never insult him– or anyone else– again. He lays out in cryptic detail that he has managed to keep Fortunato from suspecting his true intentions, but that he has waited for the moment to get his revenge. This scene sets the mood of the story, and foreshadows Fortunato’s unfortunate untimely demise.
The Scarlet Ibis by James Hurst
“At that moment the bird began to flutter, but the wings were uncoordinated, and amid much flapping and a spray of flying feathers, it tumbled down, bumping through the limbs of the bleeding tree and landing at our feet with a thud. Its long, graceful neck jerked twice into an S, then straightened out, and the bird was still. A white veil came over the eyes and the long white beak unhinged. Its legs were crossed and its clawlike feet were delicately curved at rest. Even death did not mar its grace, for it lay on the earth like a broken vase of red flowers, and we stood around it, awed by its exotic beauty.”
James Hurst explores the psyche of brothers in this short story, which features the unnamed narrator and his younger, disabled brother named Doodle. Doodle was born with a weak heart, and was predicted to not survive, let alone be able to walk, run, go to school, or do anything else little boys are supposed to be able to do. The narrator makes it his mission to help Doodle overcome these obstacles, partly because of his own shame at having a brother who isn’t “normal.” Throughout the story, the color red is used as a motif to mirror Doodle’s own red appearance as a baby, and whenever he strains with physical exertion. The scarlet ibis itself symbolizes and foreshadows Doodle’s death. It is a bird that has traveled an unlikely journey far from its home in the tropics, much farther than it should have gone, and in death, it is still beautiful and graceful, with a curved neck and bent legs. This death scene of the ibis, coupled with Doodle’s fascination with the bird, foreshadow Doodle’s own death later on.
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
“‘Poor Harry Jekyll,’ he thought, ‘my mind misgives me he is in deep waters! He was wild when he was young; a long while ago to be sure; but in the law of God, there is no statute of limitations. Ay, it must be that; the ghost of some old sin, the cancer of some concealed disgrace: punishment coming, pede claudo, years after memory has forgotten and self-loved condoned the fault.'”
In the second chapter of Stevenson’s cryptic novella, Mr. Utterson, Dr. Jekyll’s lawyer, is becoming increasingly worried about his client’s well-being. His friend Richard Enfield had already imparted a story to him about a man named Edward Hyde trampling a young child in the streets and paying £100 to avoid a scandal. The check he provided for the £100 was signed by Dr. Henry Jekyll. In these lines, Utterson is worried that Dr. Jekyll is being blackmailed by Mr. Hyde for some sin he committed many years ago; however, these words also serve as foreshadowing because Dr. Jekyll is in trouble because he has fallen in love with the darker side of himself that he repressed many years ago. This darker side is allowed to come out with a special potion as Mr. Hyde, which is slowly taking over Dr. Jekyll completely.
The Lord of the Flies by William Golding
“‘Fancy thinking the Beast was something you could hunt and kill!’ said the head. For a moment or two the forest and all the other dimly appreciated places echoed with the parody of laughter. ‘You knew, didn’t you? I’m part of you? Close, close, close! I’m the reason why it’s no go? Why things are what they are?'”
Simon has an imaginary conversation with a pig’s head, which the other boys have erected on a stick. It is covered with flies, and Simon begins to call the head “The Lord of the Flies.” The head’s conversation with Simon reveals that Simon is starting to understand the truth about what is happening to the young boys stranded on the island: there is no real beast that is chasing them. Instead, they are battling against each other. The true beast is inside them all, and it will destroy them. Simon’s conversation with the head foreshadows his own death, Piggy’s death, and Jack’s savage behavior which turns the rest of the boys against Ralph.
The Giver by Lois Lowry
“Almost every citizen in the community had dark eyes. His parents did, and Lily did, and so did all of his group members and friends. But there were a few exceptions: Jonas himself, and a female Five who he had noticed had the different, lighter eyes. No one mentioned such things; it was not a rule, but was considered rude to call attention to things that were unsettling or different about individuals.”
Jonas and Lily have just met Gabe, the newchild their father has just brought home to take care of until he is able to thrive better. Jonas and his sister Lily both notice Gabe’s eyes, and how rare they are in the community. These eyes foreshadow something very special about Gabe and Jonas. In fact, the Receiver of Memory of the community also has the same pale eyes, and Jonas is later chosen to become the new Receiver of Memory. Their eyes connect the three in a way that is special and different from the community, especially as Jonas discovers that he can give memories to Gabe. This leads Jonas to form a strong connection to Gabe, and to save him from the community before they can “release” him, or send him to Elsewhere.
A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
“‘I want you to take me to your cinema,’ Mariam said now. ‘I want to see the cartoon. I want to see the puppet boy.’
With this, Mariam sensed a shift in the atmosphere. Her parents stirred in their seats. Mariam could feel them exchanging looks.”
Up to this moment in the novel, Jalil, Mariam’s father, and Nana, Mariam’s mother have been portrayed in black and white, good and evil. Jalil’s visits to Mariam are a saving grace from her mother, who treats Mariam with utter disdain. However, when Mariam finally makes a request from her father– and especially one to be seen in public with him– the atmosphere shifts and foreshadows that something has irrevocably changed in their relationship from this request. The next day, Jalil does not come to get Mariam, and she walks down to Herat. She soon discovers that her father is ashamed of her, and by leaving her mother’s kolba, she sends her into such a depression that Nana hangs herself.
The Monkey’s Paw by W.W. Jacobs
“‘It had a spell put on it by an old Fakir,’ said the Sergeant Major, ‘ a very holy man. He wanted to show that fate ruled people’s lives, and that those who interfered with it did so to their sorrow. He put a spell on it so that three separate men could each have three wishes from it.'”
This section from Jacobs’ short story reveals both foreshadowing and theme for the story. The monkey’s paw is bewitched, and is intended to grant three wishes to three men. While Sergeant Major Morris is obviously perplexed by the paw and tries to warn Mr. White against using it, he also tells the White family that the intentions of the old fakir who put a spell on it was to show that people can’t interfere with fate. Mr. White wishes for £200, and while he receives it, it is because his son Herbert is killed in a machine accident at work. His next wish, to have Herbert back, results in a strange knocking at the door and Mr. White wishing for his son to be dead again. They know that the real Herbert would not have been at the door; they could not change their own fate.
The Lady or the Tiger? by Frank R. Stockton
“The girl was lovely, but she had dared to raise her eyes to the loved one of the princess; and, with all the intensity of the savage blood transmitted to her through long lines of wholly barbaric ancestors, she hated the woman who blushed and trembled behind that silent door.”
In this excerpt from Stockton’s cliffhanger short story, he uses foreshadowing to hint at what the princess’ choice will be. She comes from a line of semi-barbaric people, and her father, the King, is especially barbaric in his tournaments of judgment. The fact that the narrator continues to focus more time on these elements that are mixed in the princess’ bloodline gives a clear indication that she likely chose the door with the tiger and watched her lover being ripped to shreds rather than allow him to be happy with any other woman but herself.