Discuss three pairs of foils in: 15. “The Second Coming” 16.  “Dulce et Decorum Est” Auden’s “ The Unknown Citizen” Usually, a foil is a minor character that offers immediate...

 Discuss three pairs of foils in:

15. “The Second Coming”

16.  “Dulce et Decorum Est”

Auden’s “ The Unknown Citizen”

Usually, a foil is a minor character that offers immediate comparison to the main character (protagonist).  To some degree, we are able to gain more insight into the main character by having a contrasting foil present in the work.  Be sure that you explain why they are foils and then explain the points that the writer hopes to make by using the pairs as foils.  Thus, foils are not accidental.  They accentuate certain aspects of character which we should not overlook.       


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durbanville eNotes educator| Certified Educator

To answer this question (and for it to not become multiple questions) I have chosen three poems that have similarities between them in their talk of despair and what the future does or does not hold.

The main point of these three poems - Dulce Est Decorum Est, The Second Coming and The Unknown Citizen is futility.  Things are certainly NOT what they may seem and are never what is promised. The images are stark and the foils provide the reinforcement.

In Dulce Est Decorum Est, the man affected by the gas attack allows Wilfred Owen to give real depth to his convictions about the "old lie" and there can be no misunderstanding of the reality of ..."gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs." The telling of the event to his "friend" completes the use of the foil. What is essentially a plea to recognize the futility of war becomes, through the use of a foil (the man), a real, horrifying event that affects the sufferer (obviously) and those around him. Owen hopes it will serve as a revelation of the truth.

In The Second Coming Yeats too appeals for "some revelation." Something as significant as the Second Coming itself seems imminent as " Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world." The "vast image" that cements the certainty is the personification of the Second Coming in the "lion body and the head of a man" which is the foil and again attempts to add a real dimension to an otherwise real but vague concept of the end of the world as we know it. Imagine a falcon not heeding the call of the falconer!  Yeats' plea is for something to be done before the " rough beast, its hour come round at last" brings mankind to its own destruction. Mankind needs a revelation of the truth to save itself. The use of the foil - "the beast"  and the falcon - should prompt people to recognize the seriousness of the situation.

The Unknown Citizen differs from the other two in its modernity but the similarities are profound because, once again, a vague concept is realized by the use of personification. Auden's poem is straightforward and seemingly "average" in its descriptions; hence, the need for a foil. The message is the same as the previous two poems as they search for the meaning of life. The man fulfilled his duty and went off to war and " Except for the war" worked his whole life " in a factory and never got fired." 

The seemingly insignificant essentials and the "Installment Plan;" in fact, "everything necessary to the Modern Man" provide the foil here as the details are used to reinforce the concept of the average man. The narrators - "the company" - are certainly also used in this way as a foil to confirm the man's status.  Whilst the poem seems to be almost like a eulogy to a man who "served the Greater Community" it serves as a warning, albeit subtle.

In this instance, the man fulfilled his duty but  "Was he free? Was he happy?" The previous two spoke of "drowning." In all three then foils are used to ensure that the intention of the writer is not overlooked.