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A Definition of Foil Character and Famous Examples from Literature

Foil Character in Literature: Definition and Examples
A foil character can be defined as one which contrasts and antagonizes some other character in the plot. Penlighten enlists some examples that will help understand what a foil character actually is.
Penlighten Staff
Last Updated: Feb 8, 2018
Foil Character in 'Harry Potter' Series
Draco Malfoy comes across as a foil character of Harry Potter. He is arrogant, haughty, selfish, boastful about his family, and uses his powers for devilish purposes. On the other hand, Harry's character is humble, yet courageous, possessing good virtue, who will never use magic to harm the innocent.
A foil character is one which contrasts any of the characters in a literary work. A foil helps enhance the personality of another character (usually one of the protagonists). Everything that is good in this world, gets importance due to 'evil'. In short, we can say, evil helps us realize the importance of good. Similarly in literature, when any character contrasts another character, it helps the personality traits of that character gain the spotlight. Of course, a foil character is not necessarily the evil or villain in the plot.
Foil Character - Definition
In short, a foil character can be defined as a character whose personality is opposite to another character. The intention behind introducing a foil character in the plot is to highlight more attention on the personality traits of the 'other' character.
Following are a few examples of foil characters in literature. They're juxtaposed in the following list to indicate their contrasting characteristics.
Foil Character - Examples
Romeo and Juliet
Rosaline
► Rosaline is completely unavailable, and has turned away all the men from her to remain chaste.
► She does not pay any attention to Romeo's attempts to woo her.
► However, when Romeo falls for Juliet, and is willing to risk his life for the sake of love, he realizes that his love for Rosaline was immature and not as strong as how he felt for Juliet.
Juliet
► Juliet is a vivacious girl in her teens, confused about life, marriage etc., until she meets Romeo.
► Unlike Rosaline, Juliet reciprocates to Romeo's love.
► She is willing to sacrifice her life and her family for the sake of Romeo.
Hamlet
Ophelia
► Ophelia is described as a loyal and faithful daughter to her father, and truly loves Hamlet.
Gertrude
► On the other hand, Hamlet's mother appears to be unfaithful to her husband, and immediately marries Hamlet's uncle, inviting her doom.
Frankenstein
Robert Walton
► Robert Walton is the perfect foil to Victor Frankenstein, since he is not overtly ambitious to risk life as Victor is.
► He does not want crew members to suffer due to his ambition.
Victor Frankenstein
► Victor is over-ambitious.
► He tries to venture into unknown paths.
► He does not think of repercussions: loved ones have to lose their life because of him.
Macbeth
Macduff
► Macduff is exactly opposite of Macbeth, since he sacrifices everything for his country.
► He is a nobleman, but someone who also seeks personal revenge against Macbeth for ruthlessly killing his family.
Macbeth
► He comes across as a greedy person who does not have consideration for his country, and ruthlessly kills the king to make the prophecy come true of he becoming king.
► His greed and lust for power has preoccupied his mind so much, that he fails to distinguish between good and bad.
Antigone
Ismene
► Ismene is more submissive than Antigone, and does not wish to act against the edict of Creon.
► She completely contrasts Antigone, and wants her sister to stop her attempt of trying to bury their brother Polyneices.
► She fears for her life, and does not want to risk it trying to go against the king's wishes.
Antigone
► She appears to be a much stronger character than her sister, Ismene, since she is willing to go to lengths to bury her brother's dead body.
► She is more adamant and fearless, since she pays no heed to the king's edict.
Fahrenheit 451
Clarisse McClellan
► She is human, and has the ability to understand emotions and think. Unlike others, she does not believe in a life that revolves around television and nonsense activities.
► Clarisse helps Montag realize the importance of books and the freedom of expression. She makes him realize that his job does not give him the real essence of living.
Mildred
► Montag's wife, Mildred, is a character devoid of any emotional feelings. She has no attachment towards her husband, nor does she feel anything about Clarisse's death.
► She is already under the influence of television, and does not understand or support Montag's quest to read books.
The Crucible
Abigail
► Abigail, the main antagonist of the play, is a character driven by greed, lust, and envy.
► She is a clear villain, as she manages to send innocent people to the gallows to escape from being caught herself.
► She is clearly seeking revenge against Elizabeth Proctor, John's wife, since she has intentions of marrying him.
Elizabeth Proctor
► Elizabeth is John Proctor's wife. She is dragged by Abigail into the witchcraft trials. As compared to Abigail, she is kinder and more loving.
► She loves her husband deeply, and understands why he chooses to go to the gallows instead of making a false confession.
► She is, in short, a virtuous woman, who tries to forgive her husband for his adultery, also accepting the fact that her coldness was partly responsible for it.
These examples of dramatic foil indicate how a foil character adds to the importance of the other character which it is completely opposite of.