Let's define what is a foil character. A foil character is usually a secondary or minor character whose job is to contrast another character, typically a major character, in order to delineate the traits and features that stand out from that major character. Think of it like the opposite of...
Let's define what is a foil character. A foil character is usually a secondary or minor character whose job is to contrast another character, typically a major character, in order to delineate the traits and features that stand out from that major character. Think of it like the opposite of a character; someone who has become, done, or achieved what the major character struggles to become, do, or achieve.
Right away, we are introduced to one minor character who has become, done, and achieved everything that Willy Loman could not: Charley. As Willy's only friend, Charley has succeeded at everything Willy failed at in life, from finances to parenthood. Interestingly, Willy spent most of his life putting Charley and his son down, calling them nerdy and unpopular.
As Willy went through life trying to become rich quick and finding shortcuts to everything, Charley continued living life at his own pace and, above all, was true to himself. This is a huge contrast with Willy, who truly believed that he was a big time salesman. This why, years later, Willy finds himself asking Charley for money and feels embarrassed and humiliated (unjustifiably) when Charley offers him a job.
A similar situation occurs with Charley's son, Bernard, and Willy's son, Biff. Bernard was once a butt of jokes for Biff and Willy alike. They—Biff and Willy—really thought they were superior to Charley and Bernard:
Bernard can get the best marks in school [...] but when he gets out in the business world, you are going to be five times ahead of him. [...] you’re both built like Adonises. [...] the man who makes an appearance in the business world, the man who creates personal interest, is the man who gets ahead.
Years later, Bernard is a respectable attorney who will soon argue a case in the Supreme Court. Moreover, he has managed to remain humble, and he continues to care about Biff and Willy regardless of their treatment of him. He is ultimately the one who discloses to Willy that Biff suffered some emotional shock in his senior year of high school that ultimately led him to fail in life. This shock occurred when Biff caught his father having an affair with a coworker. Willy was unaware of this.
So, in contrast with Biff, Bernard is a successful man who achieves a real career and seems to be focused on real goals, rather than dreams that will continue to evaporate.
The third foil could be Willy Loman's brother, Ben. Even though he is dead in the play, it is clear that he influenced Willy because he continuously shows up in Willy's flashbacks.
The one thing that seems to affect Willy the most is the fact that his brother took risks that Willy was either unable or unwilling to take. Ben left the family home, which is something Willy would have loved to be able to do.
Why, boys, when I was seventeen I walked into the jungle, and when I was twenty-one I walked out ... And by God I was rich.
Ben also chose to forgo the idea of having a family. Instead, he opted to go for financial success. It paid off for Ben, but it left Willy constantly wondering what would have happened if he had also dared to take such a huge risk. It is clear that it affects him and pushes him to realize what he is quite limited in comparison to his brother.