The use of foil characters in "The Dead"

Essay by ||_cYaNiDe_|| March 2004

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The use of a foil character in pieces of literature is a very popular technique that greatly accentuates and helps us better understand the main character. It has been used by many authors ranging from William Shakespeare, in his play Romeo and Juliet, to Mark Twain, in his novel Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Another example can be seen in the short story "The Dead," by James Joyce. The author uses the long dead character, Michael Furey, to help us better observe the main character, Gabriel.

Gabriel and Michael Furey are different in almost every way. Gabriel is a very educated man, and does not see the world with passion as does Michael. Due to his extensive schooling, Gabriel is a very reasonable person. Before he goes outside, he is seen "struggling into his overcoat," (pg. 217) and putting on his galoshes. Michael Furey, however, is a very passionate person, and he would do anything in the name of love.

When he learnt that Gretta was leaving him, he went out in the rain, despite his bad health, with no shoes or heavy clothing. Gretta saw him "at the end of the garden, shivering."(pg. 233) Gabriel even says that he could "never [feel] like that himself towards any woman," (pg. 235) and that he could never have such love for a woman that he would risk his life for her. We also see a contrast in the way that both characters will or have died. Michael died suddenly, and for a good reason. He "pass[ed] boldly into that other world, in the full glory of some passion," (pg. 235), while Gabriel is going to "fade and whither dismally with age." (pg. 235) At the end of the novel, Gabriel fears this, and even sees the difference between the...