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Flashback Definition: a way of presenting events that happened prior to the current action taking place


A flashback offers a unique way for an author to present the events of a story. It can add drama or suspense, or fill the reader in on important information about characters, relationships, motivations, perspective, and events. It often reveals the source of a current conflict, or it can provide the reader with a deeper understanding of the motivations of a villain. Many well-known works of literature begin their tales at the end and work their way back to the beginning. Other stories begin in medias res (in the middle of things) and fill in the rest of the narrative with flashbacks before moving forward.

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Notable Examples of Flashback in Literature

  • To Kill A Mockingbird: the entire novel is told as a flashback to Scout at aged 6-9 years old from her perspective as an adult

  • A Separate Peace: the entire novel is told as a flashback when Gene visits the Devon School 15 years later

  • Catcher in the Rye: the novel is told as a flashback from Holden’s perspective in a rest home a year after his mental breakdown

  • The Things They Carried: this memoir is told as a flashback, and there are several flashbacks within the memoir to other events

  • The Scarlet Ibis”: this story is told from the perspective of the narrator as an adult, looking back on the short time he had as a child with his brother, Doodle

  • Thirteen Reasons Why: this novel uses several flashbacks to reveal past events that led Hannah to commit suicide

  • The Five People You Meet in Heaven: this novel interjects scenes from Eddie’s life to help reveal why he needs to learn lessons in Heaven

  • Death of a Salesman: the play is told in flashbacks and daydreams of Willy Loman’s life to reveal why he decides to commit suicide

Be sure to check out our article, "Flashback"!

Learn more about various devices in literature in our Picture Encyclopedia of Literary Elements!
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