Guide to Literary Terms

Start Free Trial

Why is foreshadowing important in short stories and how does it affect reader interpretation?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Foreshadowing is a wonderful technique that I imagine is not the easiest device to use. It requires a great deal of planning ahead, knowing exactly what the ending will be, and including enough to pique the reader's curiosity, but not enough to give away the ending.

Dr. L. Kip Wheeler provides the following definition for foreshadowing:

Suggesting, hinting, indicating, or showing what will occur later in a narrative. Foreshadowing often provides hints about what will happen next.

Foreshadowing provides clues as to what is to come, and for a perceptive reader, using this technique is particularly engaging.

For example, in The Westing Game, by Ellen Raskin, the story is built on the premise that a mystery needs to be solved by the story's conclusion. Clues are presented to the characters (and therefore the reader) throughout the book. However, the additional use of foreshadowing is particularly engaging as students try to imagine what the foreshadowing is before it becomes apparent by the plot development, in hopes that it will help with the clues and the solving of the mystery. It creates a great deal of discussion and higher-level thinking as students try to figure out what the mystery is first.

When a student is aware that foreshadowing is in use, he/she will often be much more careful reading and watching for important details, which support the plot without giving away too much information. I learned early in teaching that if a writer mentions a gun on the wall, if he/she is a good author, the gun had better go off before the end of the story. Sometimes trying to get this across is helpful by showing a clip of a movie or reading a poem with foreshadowing. Once the concept is mastered, looking for foreshadowing becomes entertaining, along with identifying the story's themes.

Posted on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Authors use foreshadowing to hint at future important events.  Foreshadowing is important because it is used to add depth and complexity to a work, but it is mainly used to increase suspense.  Whether consciously or unconsciously, readers pick up on these clues if they read and use them to make predictions about what will happen later in the story.

Foreshadowing is important because it can be used to direct the reader's attention.  I also can be used in symbolism, and to pinpoint themes, because authors use foreshadowing to let the reader know that something is important.

One example of foreshadowing is in the novel The Giver by Lois Lowry.  The book begins with a young boy discussing a plan that flew overhead that frightens him.  The plan was not supposed to be there, and its presence foreshadows problems in the supposedly Utopian community.  When Jonas discovers these problems, he is forced to flee and is chased by search planes, bringing the story full circle.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial