Foil definition: A foil is a literary character that is intended to highlight attributes in another character through opposing traits.
What is a Foil?
What is a foil character? A foil is a literary character that is intended to highlight attributes in another character through opposing traits.
An author creates a foil to emphasize traits in another character. Foils aren’t necessarily opposites; however, they highlight opposing traits.
A literary foil is one that develops throughout a text and may not be evident at first. A common literary foil is to present a “good” character and a “bad” character. The good character’s traits emphasize the bad character’s traits, and vice versa.
The Harry Potter Series characters Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy are a modern example of this type of foil.
Foil vs. Antagonist: What is the Difference?
A foil is a character that is created to highlight the opposing traits of another character.
An antagonist is a character “against” the protagonist. In a literary plot, an antagonist hinders the course of the protagonist. The antagonist “antagonizes” the protagonist.
These two elements seem very similar because both a foil and an antagonist seem to be “against” a character. However, a foil can be created for any character whereas an antagonist only hinders the protagonist.
Additionally, an antagonist and a foil may be the same character at times, which may add some confusion.
Literary Foil Examples:
In the Harry Potter example above, Draco Malfoy serves as both a foil and an antagonist. He possesses opposing traits and he hinders Harry Potter’s courses of action.
In Romeo and Juliet, Paris might serve as a foil for Romeo, but he is not really an antagonist. Paris represents someone who tries to marry Juliet respectfully while Romeo represents a character rebelling against societal standards.
The Purpose of a Foil Character
Why use a character foil? A foil character is created to emphasize opposing traits. Essentially, one character might seem “better” or “worse” when compared with his foil.
Creating a foil character or characters requires finesse. A writer does not want to directly state the opposing traits. It is the reader’s responsibility to acknowledge that these two characters act in contrasting ways.
Through characterization of narration and dialogue, the writer creates foils to bring forward the traits of the other. Essentially, a foil is created so that the reader will “feel” a certain way. If the author wants a reader to like or dislike a particular character, he might create a foil to emphasize those qualities.
Examples of Foil Characters in Literature
Foil character literature: In Homer’s epic, the Odyssey, goddess Circe is a foil character for Odysseus’ wife, Penelope. Penelope’s faithfulness is emphasized through Circe’s sinful nature.
Penelope remains on Ithaca and waits for her husband’s return from battling for Greece in the Trojan War. For 20 years she waits, raising their son, reigning as queen, protecting the throne.
Meanwhile, Odysseus’ journey home from war lasts ten years. While making his way, he encounters the goddess Circe. She acts as a foil to Penelope.
Penelope’s honesty and determination are highlighted against Circe’s indulgent and decadent lifestyle. Compared to them, Penelope seems even more pure, more angelic, more virtuous.
Homer includes this foil in literature for the audience to acknowledge how determined Penelope is, even when her husband is not.
Summary: Foil Character Definition
Define foil in literature: the definition of foil is a literary character that is meant to highlight and amplify characteristic in another character by possessing opposite traits.
To sum up, a foil character:
- highlights opposing traits
- is not always the antagonist
- can be multiple characters