Recognizing Foil Characters in Pride and Prejudice

Instructor: Laura Foist

Laura has a Masters of Science in Food Science and Human Nutrition and has taught college Science.

In this lesson, we will learn about foil characters and how to recognize them in ''Pride and Prejudice.'' In particular, we will discuss Mr. Wickham vs. Mr. Darcy as well as the relationship between Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy vs. the relationship between Jane and Mr. Bingley.

What are Foil Characters?

Imagine you are in a dark room and then suddenly a light is turned on, or you were in complete silence when you hear a horn blasting nearby. If there was already a light on or if you had been in a noisy room, then neither the light nor the horn blast would have been as noticeable, but the contrast emphasizes the difference. In literature, writers use opposites to emphasize characteristics in the form of foil characters.

A foil is when two characters contrast one another and the contrast highlights particular qualities of the characters. This can be one character being particularly likable while another is particularly unlikable, or it can be a morally upright hero and a corrupt villain. Foil characters are frequently used throughout literature.

Jane Austen uses several foil characters in Pride and Prejudice to emphasize certain characteristics. This is most frequently done with the main characters, yet they can be found in many other characters as well.

Foil Characters in Pride and Prejudice

In order to recognize foil characters in Pride and Prejudice, look for opposites. We can start by looking at the Bennet family. In this family we have Mr. Bennet who is sarcastic and detached. Then we have Mrs. Bennet who is foolish and tries endlessly to get her daughters married. Mr. and Mrs. Bennet are opposing figures. Mr. Bennet tries to stay away from issues dealing with his family while Mrs. Bennet puts her nose in everything to try and make sure it works out the way she wants it to.

Both Mr. and Mrs. Bennet love their family, yet they act on this love in different ways. Mr. Bennet remains detached from the on goings of his family. Even when Lydia has run off with Mr. Wickham he eventually leaves the search in the hands of Mr. Gardner. He cares about what happens to Lydia, but he is too practical to make this his only focus. On the other hand Mrs. Bennet makes herself sick with worry to the point that she cannot do anything else.

Looking at the Bennet daughters, there are several foil characters. Elizabeth is stubborn and sharp tongued while Jane is gentle. Mary is bookish while Lydia and Catherine are immature and girly.

So even within the family, we see several foil characters that work together to help highlight certain characteristics of each family member. Any other characters that seem like opposites can also be foil characters. And a single character can be a foil to more than one character.

Relationships in Pride and Prejudice

There are many relationships in Pride and Prejudice-- ones that are hoped for, developing ones, and ones that have already developed. Relationships can also be foils, as the characters participating in the relationship are opposites to each other.

Some of the main relationships in Pride and Prejudice are: Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy, Jane and Mr. Bingley, Charlotte and Mr. Collins, Mr. and Mrs. Gardner, Mr. and Mrs. Bennett, and there are many matches that others hope for when it comes to Mr. Darcy, Mr. Wickham, and Mr. Bingley.

The most obvious foil relationship is Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy's in comparison to Jane and Mr. Bingley's. Jane and Mr. Bingley fall in love easily and their relationship with each other has always been loving. In contrast, we have Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy who follow a rocky road where they don't even like each other before they eventually fall in love.

Even from the first encounters we see this difference. Mr. Bingley, referring to Jane, saying 'Oh! she is the most beautiful creature I ever beheld!' While on the other hand Mr. Darcy doesn't have anything nice to say about Elizabeth, saying 'She is tolerable; but not handsome enough to tempt me'.

Looking at the other relationships in the book, we can find many other foil relationships such as Mr. and Mrs. Gardner to Mr. and Mrs. Bennett. Mr. and Mrs. Gardner are loving, well-mannered, and responsible while Mr. and Mrs. Bennett are ill-mannered, irritate each other, and lack responsibility for their children.

You can look for foils to Charlotte and Mr. Collins' relationship through several different relationships such as: Jane and Mr. Bingley, Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy, or Elizabeth and Mr. Collins. Try and think about how these can be foil relationships or how some of the other relationships may be foils to each other.

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