Little did he know; Or, Indulging in foreshadowing

Can you really call it foreshadowing anymore when an author, via their narrator, tells you flat out that a death or a betrayal or a twist is coming in so many words? I recently read A Burnable Book, by Bruce Holsinger, and I lost count of the number of times that the narrator mentioned that he would later come to regret some action or his decision to trust a particular character. By the time the betrayal happened, it was no surprise at all. Foreshadowing with subtlety is not easy, granted. It takes a light touch.

The Delphic Sibyl hates spoilers.

Then I read Life Goes On, by Hans Keilson. In Life Goes On, the foreshadowing is no more than a hint, a touch of impeding tragedy. Since the book was originally published in 1932 (albeit in German), I’m going to spoil part of it. Fritz Fiedler has failed at every attempt to make a career. He later commits suicide. Before this, Keilson writes a scene in which the Fiedler family plans Fritz’s next move for him. Keilson describes Fritz in this moment:

It was completely dark by then, and when Albrecht turned around again he saw the shape of his friend gently looming up out of the darkness. The tip of his cigarette glowed more brightly as he inhaled, and Albrecht saw his face for a moment; it was pale and waxen, like a dead man’s. (186*)

The next time Albrecht sees Fritz is as a corpse in the morgue. gave me this definition of foreshadowing:

Foreshadowing often appears at the beginning of a story or a chapter and helps the reader develop expectations about the coming events in a story. There are various ways of creating a foreshadowing…Foreshadowing in fiction creates an atmosphere of suspense in a story so that the readers are interested to know more.

Foreshadowing does take away some of the surprise. It helps later events make sense and keep characters true to their internal logic. If you reread a text with foreshadowing, you will see signs the author left for you.

Seeing foreshadowing done write took my metaphorical breath away. When I see writing done really, really well, I appreciate the author even more; it shows they’ve mastered their craft,


* From the 2012 paperback edition by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, translated by Damion Searls.


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