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Foreshadowing in The Boarded Window

The literary element of foreshadowing helps to build suspense within story lines, while providing subtle or even overt clues to the outcome of the plot. Foreshadowing can be used to either draw readers to a particular way of thinking, or to lead them through false clues toe incorrect assumptions. In the latter case, this can help to further build suspense by providing a surprise ending. At times, foreshadowing relies on more obvious cues and clues to lead the reader to what may come.

Both are the case in The Boarded Window, a short story by Ambrose Bierce. At the beginning of the story, foreshadowing is seen when the narrator reveals that “there are few persons living today who ever knew the secret of that window, but I am one. ” This helps to set up the course of the story and lets the reader know that a revelation is forthcoming. Deeper, the secret of the boarded window takes on a darker feeling, since so few ever knew of its causation and because it’s revelation is built up so dramatically.

The narrator’s description of the land around the house with the boarded window sets up the potential ending even before the revelation that the narrator knows the cause of the boards. He describes that the once-cleared land has not been recently maintained due to the owner’s “failing flame” for agriculture, which expired in “penitential ashes. ” The reader can draw the conclusion, then, that the window boards as well as the lack of maintained property has something to do with the owner’s penance for some wrongdoing.

Foreshadowing continues to be apparent in The Boarded Window in the narrator’s description of the boarded window’s owner, Murlock. Prior statements about the window having been boarded for so long that no one could remember when it was not boarded help to support the illustration of Murlock as an old man. However, the narrator then corrects this by saying that although Murlock appears to be seventy, he is, in actuality, closer to fifty. He simply appears to be older because of some unfortunate circumstance.

The narrator describes that “something besides years had had a hand in his aging. ” After the death of Murlock, additional foreshadowing is evident when the narrator reveals that the old man is laid to rest next to the grave of his wife, who has been dead longer than the locals can remember. This seems to equate the length of time since the wife’s passing to the equally long time since the window’s boarding. As the story continues, it is revealed that the wife apparently passed away after suffering an illness from which her husband failed to nurse her back to health.

At this point, the foreshadowing is apparently fulfilled; the sudden loss of a young wife is understandably disturbing and could explain why the old man became taciturn and an assumption may even be drawn that the window was boarded to block the unpleasant memory of her death occurring in that room. However, the narrator is not finished with his tale. Instead, it is related that Murlock experienced no grief immediately after the death of his wife. This then leads the reader back from the assumption that the death in and of itself lead to his too-rapid aging and the boarded window.

As the story rapidly moves to conclusion, the narrator describes that then-younger Murlock, sleeping through his first night as a widower, is abruptly awoken from sleep by a scuffle and finds his wife being drug to the window by a large panther. He blacks out and when he comes to, discovers that his now-dead wife has blood pooled by her throat, and the panther’s ear clutched in her hand. Although foreshadowing easily leads the reader to know that a traumatic event occurred in Murlock’s life, it would be hard to jump to the conclusion that, in fact, Murlock lost his wife twice.

The first time, due to illness, and the second time, because of a hungry panther who killed a woman incapacitated by the funeral ribbons wound around her wrists by a loving husband. And so foreshadowing has largely, in this case, lead the reader away from the surprising ending, which lends to the power of the abrupt and shock delivered by the story of Murlock’s boarded window. References Bierce, Ambrose. “The Boarded Window. ” American Literature. 30 May 2009 <http://www. americanliterature. com/>. Ellis-Christensen, Tricia. “What is Foreshadowing? ” Wise Geek. 30 May 2009 <http://www. wisegeek. com>.

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