Often a writer will set up characters in opposition to each other—as foils. In fiction, a foil is a character who contrasts with another character in order to highlight one or more traits of these characters. Often, a minor character will be a foil for a main character. Many times, these characters are similar in most ways, differing only in the aspects that are being highlighted: they may come from similar social backgrounds, for example, and have similar families and talents, but make very different choices about how to use these talents. Other times, the foils are more distinctly opposites, with few similar traits.
Discuss the following questions with your classmates.
- Reverend Smith and Mr. Brown seem to have many opposite traits. What is Achebe’s purpose in including both of these men in the story?
- Are there any other character pairs that could be considered foils?
- What is Achebe’s—or any author’s—purpose in including characters who are foils for each other?