While foreshadowing typically uses description and narrative events to hint at the end of a novel, the Inferno is not a novel and primarily uses foreshadowing to predict Dante’s successful exit from Hell and his subsequent banishment from Florence. This use of foreshadowing enables readers to approach the Inferno hopefully, knowing that Dante will survive the trip. Yet given how quickly Dante’s earthly fortunes will crumble when he returns to earth, the foreshadowing also helps readers grasp one of Dante’s points in the Inferno, that faith is essential in responding to personal hardships.
Dante’s Return to Earth
At least two of the conversations Dante holds with sinners foreshadow that he will escape the Inferno. Three people punished for their violence urge Dante to retell their story to other people, “if [he] escape[s] this murky lair / and turn[s] to see the lovely stars again.” Because the first thing Dante sees when he leaves Hell are the stars, in retrospect the people’s request foreshadows that Dante will survive Hell and return to a world where he is able to see the sky. Much later, among the false counsellors, Guido da Montefeltro only shares his story with Dante because he believes that “no man has ever come alive / out of this gulf of Hell.” On a first reading, Guido’s belief that Dante will perish in Hell may make readers anxious for Dante’s fate; a second reading, however, reveals that in order to share Guido’s story, Dante must in fact survive the trip through Hell. The ironic nature of Guido’s statement thus foreshadows that Dante will leave Hell and publish the story of his voyage, including the conversation Guido thought was safe. This foreshadowing gives the reader hope in Dante’s safe exit from Hell, despite its many dangers.
At the same time, the souls Dante meets in Hell frequently predict his upcoming banishment and political troubles. Vanni Fucci, a thief, spitefully tells Dante that his political party, the White Guelphs, will be defeated by the Black Guelphs. This defeat spells doom for Dante: Brunetto Latini, one of Dante’s former teachers, predicts that the inhabitants of Florence “will grow to hate you for your doing good” and even try to kill him. At last, Dante will be banished from Florence, as Farinata, a member of the opposing political party also banished from Florence, warns him. The continual reminder of Dante’s coming banishment serves as a reminder that human power and popularity vanish quickly and lends urgency to Dante’s quest to find meaning in his faith rather than his wealth and political position.