How do Lord of the Flies and Macbeth use contrast within characters to interest the reader or audience?

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litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Lord of the Flies, Ralph and Jack are used to create contrast in leadership styles.  In Macbeth, Macbeth and Macduff serve as foils for one another.

Contrasting characters that are used to play off one another are known as foils.  Often foils will be characters that are complete opposites, sometimes on different sides of the good and evil spectrum.

Lord of the Flies and Macbeth both explore the darker side of human nature, and its effects on the good people.  In each story, there is a power-hungry character who behaves violently and irrationally and covets power for the sake of power.  In each story, an innocent character is sacrificed by this tyrannical character.

Ralph and Jack are foils.  Compared to Jack, Ralph is a sensitive, attractive, fairly compassionate and focused leader.  He tries to do what is best for the boys. 

“Shut up,” said Ralph absently. He lifted the conch. “Seems to me we ought to have a chief to decide things.”  (ch 1, p. 28)

Ralph is by no means perfect, and neither is Macduff.  Ralph is intelligent enough to listen to Piggy, such as when he blows on the conch to call the others.  Jack, on the other hand, is a tyrant who uses threats and abuse to keep his people in line.  There does not seem to be a clear reason for Ralph to be leader, other than “his size, and attractive appearance; and most obscurely, yet most powerfully, there was the conch (ch 1, p. 29).”

None of the boys could have found good reason for this; what intelligence had been shown was traceable to Piggy while the most obvious leader was Jack. (ch 1, p. 28)

Ultimately, Jack leads the boys to destruction with his savagery, including burning the island and killing Piggy and Simon.  Ralph is deeply affected by this.  When the men come to rescue them, he cries for his loss of innocence.

Like Jack, Macbeth loves power for the sake of power and Macduff only wants to do what is right for his people.  

Macbeth wants to be king because he is ambitious and selfish.  There is no reason for him to be king.  Macduff has no interest in being king.  He makes sure to support Malcolm, who was supposed to be king if his father died.

Hail, King! for so thou art. Behold where stands
The usurper's cursed head. The time is free. (Act 5, Scene 7, p. 90)

Since Macduff is not ambitious, he is the perfect foil for Macbeth.  When Macbeth kills his entire family, Macduff does not act rashly. He continues to work toward returning Malcolm to his rightful place as king.

Macduff is a sensitive soul.  He is greatly affected by Duncan's death, and saddened by the murder of his family.  He represents a loyal supporter opposed to a vicious tyrant.

Read the study guide:
Lord of the Flies

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