In the play Death of a Salesman what are the three examples of character foils and how do they each have importance on the play?quotes would be helpful

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gmuss25 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

1. Charley, Willy Loman's longtime neighbor, is a foil throughout the play. Charley is a practical, humble person, who is also a successful businessman. Unlike Willy, Charley is rational and down-to-earth. In contrast, Willy is delusional, boastful, and relatively unsuccessful. Charley's character emphasizes Willy's out-of-touch mental state and provides the audience with a rational person to compare to Willy. The following quotes portray Willy exaggerating the importance of his son's high school football game, which emphasizes the theme of rationality through the two characters.

WILLY: [the last to leave, turning to Charley]: I don’t think that was funny, Charley. This is the greatest day of his life.

CHARLEY: Willy, when are you going to grow up?

WILLY: Yeah, heh? When this game is over, you’ll be laughing out of the other side of your face. They’ll be calling him another Red Grange. Twenty-five thousand a year. (Act 2)

2. Charley's son Bernard is Biff Loman's foil throughout the play. Unlike Biff, Bernard is a dedicated, intelligent lawyer, who has the opportunity to present a case in front of the Supreme Court. In contrast, Biff is a lazy kleptomaniac, who has squandered every professional opportunity he has ever been given. Bernard's success illustrates the importance of developing quality character traits like integrity and hard work in children. However, Biff was not raised properly, which negatively impacts the trajectory of his life. The following conversation between Bernard and Willy reveals why Biff has not become a success.

WILLY (confidentially, desperately): You were his friend, his boyhood friend. There’s something I don’t understand about it. His life ended after that Ebbets Field game. From the age of seventeen nothing good ever happened to him.

BERNARD: He never trained himself for anything. (Act Two)

The Woman is Linda's foil throughout the play. The Woman carries on a secret affair with Willy while he is out of town. She is not involved with Willy's children and doesn't support him through difficult times like his wife. In contrast, Linda is portrayed as a compassionate, loving wife and mother, who fully supports her husband despite his numerous shortcomings.

angelanns eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Willy is a struggling salesman who can barely make ends meet.  Charley is a successful business man.  Willy thinks success means being well liked; success is being popular. Charley does not need people to like him, and he does not see that people’s adulation equates to success. Charley understands that people like others based on superficial material. 


Ben and Charley are successful businessmen. They are foils simply because the way in which they become successful.  Ben achieves success instantly; it takes Charley years to succeed.This foil shows how the American dream can be a disillusionment.  Willy sees Ben and thinks that success can fall into anyone’s lap.  In America, people can discover wealth, but this is not an everyday occurrence. Most American success is through hard work.  



Biff was an attractive, popular football star. Bernard was a nerd.  Biff never becomes the successful college athlete he was hoping to be.  Bernard, the one who is unpopular and “not well liked” (Miller 1576) becomes a lawyer.This foil shows how buying into an American dream without the ability to make wise choices produces more failure.  These two young men represent the next generation; they are extensions of their fathers.  However, if parents have the wrong values, they only bestow these ills to their children, causing more failures. Traditional hard work is always the best choice.