Foil is a literary device that involves the use of a character who contrasts with another character in order to highlight certain qualities or traits of the other character. The foil character is often portrayed as a contrast to the protagonist or another important character in the story. This contrast can be used to emphasize the differences between the two characters, highlight certain themes or motifs, or provide a better understanding of the protagonist’s qualities. Foil characters can be similar in many ways but differ in key areas, or they can be completely opposite in terms of personality, behavior, or beliefs.

Examples of foil:

In Shakespeare’s play “Romeo and Juliet,” Mercutio serves as a foil to Romeo. While Romeo is romantic and impulsive, Mercutio is cynical and practical.

In F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel “The Great Gatsby,” the character Tom Buchanan serves as a foil to Jay Gatsby. While Gatsby is idealistic and hopeful, Tom is cynical and self-centered.

In J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” series, the character Neville Longbottom serves as a foil to Harry Potter. While Harry is brave and confident, Neville is initially shy and insecure.

In William Golding’s novel “Lord of the Flies,” the characters Ralph and Jack serve as foils to each other. While Ralph represents civilization and order, Jack represents savagery and chaos.

In Jane Austen’s novel “Pride and Prejudice,” the character Elizabeth Bennet serves as a foil to her sister Jane. While Jane is sweet and reserved, Elizabeth is outspoken and independent.

3 thoughts on “Foil”

  1. The Great Gatsby?
    At first I thought that Gatsby is Tom’s foil, but now I’m thinking something like Nick’s foil is everyone because most of the characters are terrible people. I’m probably overthinking this but if someone could clarify that would be extremely helpful.

  2. Braveheart and foils
    Foil, in my opinion, is an analytic/text-generative device. All the main characters in Braveheart can be seen as foils for William Wallace.

    King longshanks is evil, Wallace good.
    Prince Edward is feeble, Wallace heroic.
    Robert the Bruce is doubtful, Wallace believes.
    Bruce’s father is cynical, Wallace loving.
    Hamish is short-tempered, Wallace calm.
    Isabella is feminine, Wallace masculine.
    The nobles are petty, avaricious, and impotent, Wallace grand, charitable, and resolute.
    The English soldiers are lustful, Wallace chaste.

    In short: Wallace represents perfect virtue, and all the other characters contrast with each their own version of sin (we might say that Wallace represents the seven virtues and all the other characters one of the seven sins).
    A very nice composition, in my opinion: My only objection would be that maybe it’s a little bit too nice, I mean, it makes Wallace come across as almost divine.
    – but then again, I’m quite sure that that is (also) very deliberate, as I think the story is (really) about…
    … Jesus. 😉


    The long and the short of it is:

    I love that film. 😀

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