Wednesday, September 8, 2010


I finished reading The Book Thief by Markus Zusak over the weekend (I loved the book, by the way); when I finished the book, I read the reader's guide information at the back of the book. One of the discussion questions included a question about the foreshadowing in the book, which got me thinking about how I defined foreshadowing.

Before reading The Book Thief, I read The House at Riverton by Kate Morton.

Morton's book is a beautifully tragic mystery, in which readers are given pieces of the finished puzzle and have to put those pieces together for themselves. The mystery (i.e., the missing pieces of the puzzle) that drives the central plot is not completely revealed until the last pages of the book. Along the way, there are clues cleverly placed for readers to figure out little bits on their own, but Morton makes her readers wait until the end to get the entire picture. To me, this type of technique is foreshadowing--giving clues along the way that give readers hints as to what will happen (or, in some cases, as to what has already happened but been kept secret).

Zusak's The Book Thief, on the other hand, doesn't do what I would call foreshadowing--when the narrator introduces new story lines, he tells the readers what the end of the story will be (so you get the end result of the puzzle) and then tells readers the details for how the story got to be that way. So it's like looking at a finished puzzle that's been lacquered together already and having to figure out where the individual pieces are and how they build off each other. I don't think that is foreshadowing--I would call it presenting the story out of chronological order but not foreshadowing. When the end is told to you before the beginning, any clues given along the way are simply building the picture you already know.

Do you agree? (Or do you have a better literary term that I should become familiar with for how the story is told in The Book Thief?)


Shannon said...

I agree. That is NOT foreshadowing. I would say it's more a reverse chronology, kind of like Memento, or maybe a framing device.

This website seems to have a lot of ideas, maybe you can find one that fits?

If the ending of the story is not really the ending (i.e., the author starts at the "end," flashes back, then continues the story beyond the original end), you can call it in medias res. I had forgotten that one, but it's a nice one!

And no, I no case would I ever call what you describe in the second story foreshadowing. That just makes the English writing major in me angry.

Jessie Sams said...

I'm glad I'm not alone in this! Based on the definitions on the page you gave, I'd say THE BOOK THIEF uses a mixture of reverse chronology and in medias res because sometimes the end of that part of the story would be the beginning, and other times it would start more in the middle and build the plot arc around it. Calling what happens in the book 'foreshadowing' is about like calling everything described in Alanis Morissette's song 'ironic.' :)

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