Literary Devices from A to Z – Brought to you by the letter F




is for Foil




Foils are characters that have opposing character traits and motivations.

An example of foils from classical literature are Macbeth and Macduff from William Shakespeare’s Macbeth. In this example, Macbeth is driven by ambition to suit his own, selfish needs, while Macduff’s only ambition is altruistic in nature, to put the kingdom back to rights. Macduff and his wife’s relationship is a loving one, while Macbeth and Lady Macbeth’s is adversarial. Macduff has a child while Macbeth has none. Macduff is allied with Malcolm while Macbeth is his enemy. These and other traits set Macbeth and Macduff up as near polar opposites in character and desire, establishing them as foils.

In The Revenant, Morgan and his brother Malchus are constructed as opposites. Morgan is the naughty child, Malchus the good one. Morgan tends his family’s farm fields while Malchus is apprenticed to the local doctor. Morgan has the gift of foresight, something he wishes would go away while Malchus actively seeks out and embraces his power in the Dark Arts. Malchus raises Zulu from the grave for nefarious means; Morgan saves him. Morgan finds a life of purpose embracing the good while Malchus loses himself in evil. For these and other reasons, the brothers are set up as having opposing personalities, desires and motivations, rendering them foils.

Can you think of any other foils in literature or television? Post your ideas in the comments below.


2 thoughts on “Literary Devices from A to Z – Brought to you by the letter F

    1. admin Post author

      I forgot about Harry and Malfoy. Great example of foils. Thanks for posting, Tasha.

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