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Foreshadowing Definition: a hint or a clue early in the work that indicates what will happen later on


Foreshadowing is used to create suspense for the reader of events that will happen to the characters in a story. Often, foreshadowing can be used in conjunction with dramatic irony or other ironic elements. Foreshadowing can also shift the mood, propelling both the characters and the reader into a new emotional direction. Foreshadowing can happen in dialogue, a description of setting or mood, a shift in tone, a symbol, through the actions of a character, a dream, a flashback, a coincidence, and numerous other ways. It can be very subtle or very obvious to the reader or audience.

For example, in Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck foreshadows Lennie’s death with the death of Candy’s old dog. Candy loves the dog, but he’s become an imposition to the other men living in the bunkhouse with his smell, so Carlson convinces Candy to let him take the old dog out and put him out of his misery, because Candy can’t bring himself to do it, which he later regrets. Later on when Lennie has killed Curley’s wife and the mob is out looking for him, George will not allow someone else to kill Lennie, potentially torturing him or worse first. Lennie is his responsibility, and George believes it is the right thing for him to put Lennie out of his misery.

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Notable Examples of Foreshadowing in Literature

  • The mouse, Candy’s old dog, and Curley’s wife foreshadow Lennie’s death in Of Mice and Men
  • Juliet remarks that Romeo looks gray, like he is at the bottom of a tomb, as he leaves her residence in Romeo and Juliet
  • The beginning of The Kite Runner shows Amir’s recollection of a “deserted alley”
  • The ibis in “The Scarlet Ibis” foreshadows Doodle’s death
  • The birds of prey foreshadow Cassius’s own death in The Tragedy of Julius Caesar
  • Roger’s incessant bullying of Piggy, especially throwing rocks at him, foreshadows Piggy’s death under a boulder in The Lord of the Flies

Be sure to check out our article, "Types of Foreshadowing"!

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