What is a Flashback? Definition, Examples of Flashbacks in Literature

Flashback definition: A flashback is a scene the insertion of a scene that interrupts the present story in order to tell of a past event.

What is a Flashback?

Flashbacks are scenes that are inserted in a story that take the reader back to an earlier time. They are flashed back to an event that happened in the past.

Example of Flashback

As a mother takes pictures during her daughter’s graduation, she begins telling her husband about memories she has of her daughter starting kindergarten. She has interrupted the present action of graduation in order to tell about a past event.

Modern Examples of Flashbacks

The hit sitcom Friends often used flashbacks during the television episodes. For example, flashbacks were often used to create humor around Monica’s previous struggles with obesity during her teenage years.

Another television show that included flashbacks was the drama Dexter. In one particularly memorable flashback, the viewer is shown how Dexter was born in blood due to the witnessing of his family’s murder. This profound flashback allows the viewer to sympathize with Dexter’s traumatic childhood and begin to understand the reasoning behind his serial murders.

The Function of Flashbacks

Flashbacks are important because they allow the reader to attain background information about characters or events. By receiving this information, the reader is better able to understand a character and his/her motives in the course of the story.

Examples of Flashbacks in Literature

Let’s discuss a few ways that flashbacks are used in literature with examples.

James Hurst’s short story The Scarlet Ibis is an example of a flashback. The story begins with the narrator sitting in his parlor. The imagery presented is very somber and the sound of a grindstone leads him into a flashback that tells the story of his younger brother’s short life. This story is told as a flashback in order to emphasize the profound effect that his brother’s death still has on him as an adult.

The novel Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie includes flashbacks. An example of this is during the scene where the protagonist, Ifemelu, is sitting the hair salon getting her hair braided for a return to her home country, Nigeria. During the process of braiding her hair, she includes flashbacks telling the story of her life up to that point. This allows the reader to understand he background and why she is filled with anticipation to return to Nigeria after being in America for several years.

Summary: What is a Flashback?

Define flashback: A flashback is when present narration is interrupted to tell of an event that happened in the past. This allows the reader to gain a deeper understand of the character and his/her previous life.

Final Example:

In Harper Lee’s novel Go Set a Watchman, Lee includes flashback of Scout’s childhood adventures with her brother and neighbor friend Dill.

These tales allow some comic relief to the otherwise serious drama as well as provide more depth to Scout’s adult character by allowing the reader to understand her relationship with her brother and friend.