Using Character Foil Analysis

What is character foil analysis? Well, first you need to know what character foils are. Character foils occur when two or more characters are contrasted in a story to illuminate distinct qualities in them.



Consider Jack and Ralph from William Golding's Lord of the Flies. Whereas Jack is focused on the immediate gratification provided by hunting and eating meat, Ralph cares more about keeping the signal fire going. Jack has given up hope of ever being rescued while Ralph clings to it.




Character foils also occur in stories using the love triangle trope. For example, consider Edward and Jacob from The Twilight Saga. Edward is thoughtful and careful, whereas Jacob is impulsive and wreckless. This is partly due to their age difference, but impulsive behavior also seems to be characteristic of werewolves, whereas vampires--at least older vampires--can operate with calculation and restraint.


Character foils occur in my stories, too. Thanatos and Hypnos, though fraternal twins and sons of Hades in The Underworld Saga, are very different from one another. Where Thanatos is serious, Hyponos is a light-hearted and witty. Where Thanatos is innocent when it comes to affairs of the heart, Hypnos has been engaged to Pasithea, the goddess of tranquility, and has interacted with countless women in their dreams. Similarly, Jeno and Hector from The Vampires of Athens function as foils. Jeno, an ancient vampire is sad, contemplative, and hesitant to fight. Hector, a young demigod, is anxious to prove himself in battle to his father, Hephaestus, and to the other gods.


Once you can identify character foils at wirk in a story, you can use what you discover about them to better understand the major themes in a work.


Going back to Lord of the Flies, you can use the character foil analysis to observe the theme of hope and salvation in a world tainted by original sin. In Twilight, Edward and Jacob's differences highlight coming of age themes as Bella eventually rejects the immediate gratification and immature impulsivity offered by Jacob for the longterm sacfrifice and maturity required for her to be with Edward. In this way, Twilight is a coming of age story for Bella, and her transition from human to vampire parallels a young womans transition from adolescent to adulthood.


So, next time you pick up a book, reflect on the differences between characters to help you to discover thematic elements you may not have noticed otherwise.


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© 2020 by Eva Pohler 

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