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Foil (literature)

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Title: Foil (literature)  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: List of Shakespearean characters (A–K), Narrative, Jonathan Higgins, Banquo, Baldrick
Collection: Counterparts to the Protagonist
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Foil (literature)

Don Quixote and his sidekick Sancho Panza, as illustrated by Gustave Doré: the characters' contrasting qualities[1] are reflected here even in their physical appearances.

In fiction, a foil is a character who contrasts with another character (usually the protagonist) in order to highlight particular qualities of the other character.[2][3][4] In some cases, a subplot can be used as a foil to the main plot. This is especially true in the case of metafiction and the "story within a story" motif.[5] The word foil comes from the old practice of backing gems with foil in order to make them shine more brightly.[6]

A foil usually either differs drastically or is extremely similar but with a key difference setting them apart. The concept of a foil is also more widely applied to any comparison that is made to contrast a difference between two things.[7] Thomas F. Gieryn places these uses of literary foils into three categories which Tamara Antoine and Pauline Metze explain as: those that emphasize the heightened contrast (this is different because ...), those that operate by exclusion (this is not X because...), and those that assign blame ("due to the slow decision-making procedures of government...").[8]

Examples from Literature

In Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley, the two main characters of Dr. Frankenstein and his "Adam of your Labours," his "creature, " his "wretch," are both together literary foils, functioning to compare one to the other.

In Pride and Prejudice, Mary's absorption in her studies places her as a foil to her sister Lydia Bennet's lively and distracted nature.[9]

Similarly, in Shakespeare's play Julius Caesar, the character Brutus has foils in the two characters Cassius and Marc Antony.[10]

In the Harry Potter series, Draco Malfoy can be seen as a foil to the Harry Potter character; Professor Snape enables both characters "to experience the essential adventures of self-determination"[11] but they make different choices; Harry chooses to oppose Lord Voldemort and the Death Eaters, whereas Draco eventually joins them.

See also


  1. ^ Corwin, Norman (1978-04-01). Holes in a stained glass window. L. Stuart.  
  2. ^ Retrieved 2011-01-18.
  3. ^ Retrieved 2011-01-18.
  4. ^ Auger, Peter (August 2010). The Anthem Dictionary of Literary Terms and Theory. Anthem Press. pp. 114–.  
  5. ^ Retrieved 2011-01-18.
  6. ^
  7. ^ "Define Foil at". Original publisher, Collins World English Dictionary, reprinted at Retrieved 3 March 2013. 
  8. ^ Metze, Tamara Antoine Pauline (2010). Innovation Ltd.. Eburon Uitgeverij B.V. pp. 61–.  
  9. ^ Leverage, Paula (2011). Theory of Mind and Literature. Purdue University Press. pp. 6–.  
  10. ^ Marrapodi, Michele (2011-03-01). Shakespeare and Renaissance Literary Theories: Anglo-Italian Transactions. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd. pp. 132–.  
  11. ^ Heilman, Elizabeth E. (2008-08-05). Critical Perspectives on Harry Potter. Taylor & Francis US. pp. 93–.  
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