When symbolism works, it really works. The examples that grab me the most and focus my attention are those that explode into my mind and expose exactly what's going to happen next. I recently finished watching the first season of The Wire, and the lead-up to the murder of one character in it is mirrored on an episode in Saul Bellow's 1970 novel Mr. Sammler's Planet. The TV series is set in Baltimore among the police, courts and drug dealers of 2002, and the novel is in New York of 1970, among a family of Jewish professionals and professors. Completely different milieus, but both Bellow and the team of David Simon and Ed Burns, who wrote the TV teleplay, find a clear metaphor for human well-being---the inside of a building, the pipes and wiring hidden behind the walls. (Spoiler alert: I give away a key plot point to Season 1 below. Chances are you're hipper to pop culture than I am, and don't need an alert, but I'll provide it just the same.)
What happens in Mr. Sammler's Planet is this: Fairly early in the novel, Sammler's surgeon nephew Elya Gruner has gone into the hospital and is diagnosed with a brain aneurysm. Much of the rest of the book is spent with philosophical discussions between Sammler and the other characters, with episodic larceny and an occasional eruption of violence sprinkled in. As it progresses, Gruner's condition doesn't improve, they go back to the hospital to visit him, talk and talk and talk, etc.
Then, one evening. the family is in Gruner's attractive mansion when they notice water pouring down the stairs. They wonder if the tub has been left on and has overflowed, and decide it's coming down too quickly. After that, it's a short investigation before learning that a worn-out pipe in the attic (the highest point in the house...) burst, and has been spraying water everywhere. "Listening, they heard a sound of spraying abovce, and a steady, rapid tapping, trickling cascading, snaking of water on the staircase," Bellow wrote. It takes another 70 pages, but at this point, we know that Gruner's own aneurysm will take him with it.
In The Wire, we get clued in to a teenager's fate, instead of an old man, and he's murdered instead of dying in a hospital. The 16-year old drug dealer Wallace returned from hiding, and the bosses of his drug ring don't believe he can be trusted anymore. We watch the belief in Wallace fade at the same time as the police are preparing another move against those who will order the boy's execution in the episode "Sentencing."
The building in question is the one that houses the operations center of Avon Barksdale's drug ring. The police have decided to plant monitoring devices inside, and enable themselves to have audio and video feeds of the discussions taking place within. As this is progressing, we see Wallace hanging out with his friends. Eventually, the police have set up in the building and unpacked their tools, and any doubt the viewer has about Wallace's fate begins to plummet. Then, a detective sinks a drill into a wall in close-up, a bunch of drywall shavings pour out, and we know that just like that wall had a hole driven into it, so will Wallace.
(Aside: I absolutely loved that little guy, played by Michael B. Jordan, and was heartbroken when he started using drugs in the middle of the season. I started mad-texting a friend to tell me that the kid turns out ok, and she refused to do it. He got himself cleaned up, the police started looking after him, and I thought it would work out, and then felt my heart drop and my insides twist up as he was killed. For a fictional TV series to have this effect...I don't know, they must have been doing something right.)
So that's symbolism and that's foreshadowing, and it's great storytelling, and writers who can ratchet up the power of a death, which already is fairly potent, are playing with some very powerful toys.