Foil Characters in Oliver’s Evolution, A Good Man is Hard to Find, A&P and A Rose for Emily

April 27, 2022 by Essay Writer

Foil characters are found in a variety of stories and play an important role in both the plot and development of the main character. Foils help make the main character’s attributes stand out and works to highlight the contrasting differences between two characters. In most stories, the antagonist plays the role of the foil character. This is because the antagonist obtains contrasting qualities when compared to the protagonist. A few stories that obtain foil characters include “Oliver’s Evolution” and “A&P” by John Updike, “A Good Man is Hard to Find” by Flannery O’Connor, along with “A Rose for Emily’ by William Faulkner. All of these stories contain a foil character that works to direct focus on the main character’s characteristics.

In “Oliver’s Evolution” the role of the foil character is played by two people which are Oliver’s parents. With Oliver being the youngest in his family, he was often overlooked and never considered as a firsthand priority. As stated in the text, “But Oliver, at thirteen, felt the weight of the household descend on him; he made his mother’s sense of abandonment his own” (Updike 191). Just as the quotation expressed, the behavior and actions that Oliver’s parents exhibited put an excess amount of pressure on him. But once Oliver was married to his wife, he began to develop contrasting qualities among him and his parents.

According to the author, “Oliver has grown broad, and hold the two of them at once. They are birds in a nest. He is a tree, a sheltering boulder. He is a protector of the weak” (192). Viewing this quotation, one can clearly identify the main contrasting qualities of Oliver and his parents. He worked to take the behavior his parents expressed towards him and shift it into something good for his future family. In the words of the author, “By comparison, Oliver was solid and surefooted, and she looked up to him” (192). Looking at this quotation one can see that Alicia, Oliver’s wife, looks up to Oliver in a way that no one has throughout his life. Now with Oliver being married, he is given a chance to redeem his status as an individual who is part of a family. His parents poor attitude and behavior was just the push he needed to achieve this.

Looking at the story “A&P”, many people might have overlooked the foil character presented within the text. The character who played the foil in this story was Stokesie. Stokesie is a twenty-two year old married man who is still working at the A&P. He is a vision of what Sammy wouldn’t want for his future as a nineteen year old boy. According to the author, “Stokesie’s married, with two babies chalked up on his fuselage already, but as far as I can tell that’s the only difference” (Updike 261). With this quotation one can determine the way Sammy sees Stokesie.

Although they are good friends, Sammy describes Stokesie in a negative, foolish manner. As stated by Sammy, “I forgot to say that he thinks he’s going to be manager some sunny day, maybe in 1990 when it’s called the Great Alexandrov and Petrooshki Tea Company or something” (261). One can see that although Sammy and Stokesie are alike, Sammy does not want to be in the same place as Stokesie in his future. Sammy views Stokesie as being hopeless due to the fact that he is still working at the A&P while he could be doing something better for his life. This poses as the underlining contrast between Sammy and Stokesie.

Defining the foil character in the story “A Good Man is Hard to Find” can be difficult as both the main characters have their fair share of misdeeds. But, the Misfit is the character who plays the foil in this story. This is because both the grandmother and the Misfit obtain conflicting views of life. According to the author, “Finally she found herself saying, Jesus, Jesus, meaning, Jesus will help you, but the way she was saying it, it sounded as if she might be cursing”(O’Connor 456).

The grandmother is concerned about good behavior, seeing the good in others, and actions that could better oneself. In contrast, the Misfit believes in facing the worst of situations, getting straight to the point of things, and only considering one’s ideology rather than what others believe or what society suggests. In the words of the Misfit, “I found out a crime don’t matter. You can do one thing or you can do another, kill a man or take a tire off his car, because sooner or later you’re going to forget what it was you done and just be punished for it” (456). This quotation works to show the clear distinction of ideologies both the grandmother and the Misfit have. The Misfit believes committing crimes and doing whatever one wishes to do is the proper way of living. But, in the words of the grandmother, “I know you’re a good man. You don’t look a bit like you have common blood. I know you must come from nice people” (454)! The grandmother believes that praying and wishing for great things in the future is the superior way of living. But, telling by the conclusion of the story, the grandmother was wrong.

Although Rose in the story “A Rose for Emily” exhibits negative qualities in some ways, she is not considered to be the foil of the story. The foil for this story is Homer Barron. Homer, as the story described him, is “- a big, dark, ready man, with a big voice and eyes lighter than his face” (Faulkner 246). He is always producing laughter and becoming the center of attention. With this, one can see the clear distinction of personalities between both Homer and Emily. Emily in contrast, is a reserved, arrogant girl associated with the high-class.

According to the author, “…Homer himself had remarked – he liked men, and it was known that he drank with the younger men in the Elk’s Club” (247). Homer liking men is also a contributing factor as to why he would be identified as the foil. Once Emily found out that the one she loved and wanted to marry was gay, she took matters into her own hands. As stated in the text, “So she had blood-kin under her roof again and we sat back to watch developments”(248). When this part of the story came, where the townspeople assumed Homer and Emily were married, Emily’s true character was displayed. With this, Homer’s personality played a significant role in Emily’s character development.

Although many individuals tend to characterize the main character of a story in a certain manner, others may disagree. An example of this is Lawrence Jay Dessner’s literary critic of John Updike’s “A&P”. Dessner, who studies in short fiction, summarized Sammy’s character to be a careless teenager. According to Dessner, “Nor does he know, or care about, the circumstances that might lead one -himself for instance- to a career as a laborer in the city’s Department of Streets and Sewers” (1988). Viewing the quotation one can see that Dessner explains Sammy as a mere teenager.

An individual who is filled with critics of the world they live in, the people they work with, and those around them. Just as Dessner stated, “Sammy enormously underates the range and reach of the adult world’s terrors, those necessities which do indeed lie in wait for him…” (1988). This quotation works to define the cause of Sammy’s actions towards the end of the story. Sammy quitting his job at the A&P is an example of his incompetent self failing to realize the results of his actions. With this, Dessner works to describe Sammy as a teenager who doesn’t dwell on their actions but works to breakdown the results of other people’s actions throughout their lives (Stokesie for example).

After identifying the foil characters in the following stories, one can see the important role foils play in the progression of a story. The role of a foil character can be interpreted by the saying, “adding fuel to the fire”. When fuel is added to fire, the flames become larger and stand out more. Similarly, the purpose of a foil character is to highlight the qualities of the main character causing them to stand out more.

Each foil character presented from the following stories allows readers to understand the protagonist in a different light. This is especially seen in the story “A Rose for Emily” as Homer unveiled the dark side of Emily’s personality. In short, foil characters not only compliment the main character but they help initiate change towards their personality.


Read more