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Comparing Foils in Boys and Girls and A Clean Well

-Lighted Place comparison compare contrast essaysImportance of Foils in Boys and Girls and A Clean Well-Lighted Place

Four Works Cited A Handbook to Literature says that the word “foil” literally means a “leaf” or a sheet “of bright metal placed under a piece of jewelry to increase its brilliance” (“Foil”). Thus when applied to literature, the term refers to “a character who makes a contrast with another, especially a minor character who helps set off a major character” (Barnett et al. 1331). For example, a foolish character may place a wise character’s wisdom in a stronger light, or a cowardly character may make the hero’s actions appear even more courageous. A foil is frequently an antagonist or confidant, but whoever the foil might be, the purpose is to illuminate one or more significant traits, attitudes or actions of a main character (“Foil” NTCE).

In the story, ‘”A Clean Well-Lighted Place,” by Ernest Hemingway, the younger waiter is a foil for both the older waiter and the old man who comes to drink in the cafe. The older waiter is concerned for the old man who has tried to kill himself. He understands that there are many lonely people who need a safe, well-lighted place to escape loneliness at night.

The older waiter makes the comment near the end of the story that “each night I am reluctant to close up because there may be someone who needs the cafe” (1172). The older waiter is sympathetic to the old man because he himself is lonely. He confesses that ” I am of those who like to stay late at the cafe, with all those who need a light for the night” (1172).

On the other hand, the younger waiter has a wife to go home to and is irritated at the old man because he will not leave. He even says to the old man, who is deaf, “You should have killed yourself last week” (1170). This cruel remark contrasts sharply with the older waiter’s characteristics of compassion, friendliness, and tolerance.

In the story, ” Boys and Girls,” by Alice Munro, Laird is the foil for his sister, the narrator of the story. When the children are young, Laird’s behavior contrasts with the maturity and responsibility shown by the girl. While she is busy watering the foxes, he goes off and swings “himself sick . . . going around in circles” or tries to catch caterpillars (987).

But when the children are older, Laird’s actions emphasize the girl’s feminine characteristics. While she tries to save the horse, Flora, by letting her run free, Laid calls to his father and the hired man who are going to chase the horse, “Let me go too, let me go too!” When they return, he has a streak of blood on his arm and says, “We shot old flora. . . and cut her up in fifty pieces” (992). The blood thirsty young male contrasts sharply with the soft hearted girl.

Thus, in each of these two stories, a minor character, the younger waiter in “A Clean, Well Lighted Place,” and the younger brother, Laird, in “Boys and Girls” serves as a foil to emphasize the qualities of a major character.

Works Cited
Hemingway, Ernest. “A Clean, Well Lighted Place.” Literature for Composition. 4th ed. Ed. Sylvan Barnet, New York: HarperCollins 1996. 1169-1173.
Holman, Hugh C. and William Harmon. A Handbook to Literature. 5th ed. New York: Macmillan, 1986.
Monro, Alice. “Boys and Girls” Literature for Composition. 4th ed. Ed. Sylvan Barnet, New York: HarperCollins 1996. 983-993.
Morner, Kathleen and Ralph Rausch. NTC’s Dictionary of Literary Terms. Lincolnwood, Illinois: NCT Publishing, 1996.


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