The Kite Runner/Life of Pi: the Foil
The Kite Runner/Life of Pi: The Foil In both The Kite Runner and Life of Pi, the relationship between the major character and a minor character—the foil—help to highlight the main character’s qualities, illuminating his traits to be seen in an extraordinary, nonstandard way. In The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini creates Hassan as the foil for Amir. Hassan’s character, as perfect as he is, causes Amir to pale in comparison, something that Amir channels throughout his life, governing his actions.
Similarly, Yann Martel employs Richard Parker as the foil for Pi in Life of Pi. The strength and ferocity of the tiger emphasizes Pi’s hopelessness and fear. Pi utilizes these emotions to fight and continue living. In both novels, the foil character underlines the main protagonist’s characteristics and provokes certain feelings that ultimately determine his fate. In The Kite Runner, Hassan is Amir’s half-brother, best friend, and servant. His character is nearly perfect—loyal, courageous, caring, kind, and selfless. He has no evil qualities.
When compared to Hassan, Amir’s value and positive qualities fall flat and are seen as insignificant and mediocre. Even more, his bad features are amplified and made more prominent. Amir cannot live up to Hassan’s goodness. This inadequateness is put into words and exemplified through Baba, who declares that, “If I hadn’t seen the doctor pull [Amir] out of my wife with my own eyes, I’d never believe he’s my son” (Hosseini 23). Baba often treated Amir and Hassan equally, which was unusual because the Hazara was essentially their servant.
If Amir asked for a big and fancy kite, Baba would buy it for him—but then he would buy it for Hassan as well (Hosseini 51). These displays of affection were later explained in that Baba was actually Hassan’s real father, but the effect they had had on Amir stuck. Amir was always desperately vying for his father’s love and approval. The fondness Baba treated Hassan with vexed and aggravated him. Without the knowledge of Hassan’s true parentage, Amir felt many flashes of jealousy and frustration—emotions that, compared with his own brother’s understanding and humility, projects him as criminal.
The most prominent situation that highlights Amir’s character is when he witnesses Hassan being raped. The event leading up to the incident is of Hassan running after the final kite—just for Amir. He finds it, only to be cornered by Assef who demands the kite as retribution for the “rude manners” he showed him during and earlier incident (Hosseini 71). Hassan refuses, retorting back, “Amir agha won the tournament and I ran this kite for him. I ran it fairly. This is his kite” (Hosseini 72). He is assaulted in reply.
Here, Hassan’s traits of extraordinary loyalty and courageousness are displayed; however, switch the scope to Amir and the qualities revealed are the exact opposite. Amir witnessed the raping of his best friend and did nothing. He was afraid of getting hurt, afraid of losing Baba’s newly earned affections and simply ran away (Hosseini 77). When compared to Hassan, Amir’s qualities of selfishness and cowardice are highlighted and intensified. From the presence of Hassan, Amir’s selfishness and cowardice, in addition to his desire to be “good enough”, are not only emphasized, but acknowledged by Amir himself.
These are the traits that ultimately drive him throughout his life. The recognition of the evil in himself coupled with his will to do good lead him to search for redemption—one of the main themes of the novel. With the immense guilt over Hassan’s rape pushing him forward, Amir lives his life stiffly until taking the move to America where he starts a new morally upright life, where he helps his father and marries a good woman, and then finally completely redeeming himself through returning to Afghanistan and saving Sohrab from Assef.
By establishing Hassan as a foil character for Amir, Hosseini creates a domino effect in which his main character discovers himself, realizes he dislikes what he finds, and fights his way towards the “way to be good again”—redemption. In Life of Pi, Pi’s fellow passenger throughout most of his time at sea is Richard Parker, a 450-pound Royal Bengal tiger. The wild, aggressive tiger initially places the sensitive, intelligent Pi in an immense state of fear. Pi is overwhelmed by terror over an animal known for its ferocity and power, an animal he’s seen viciously attack and devour a live goat (Martel 35).
Richard Parker scares him witless. His main focus, then, is to survive this creature. Richard Parker’s intimidating nature at first reveals Pi’s initial sense of surrender and loss of faith and general humanity. “With a tiger on board, my life was over” (Martel 135). As he accepts the presence of the tiger, however, he becomes determined. Richard Parker’s animalistic nature rubbed off on Pi. In place of his slight loss of humanity arises a sense of instinctual will to live. “I will not die. I refuse it.
I will make it through this nightmare” (Martel 148). He hatches “several plans to get rid of [Richard Parker]” and ultimately decides to tame him (Martel 157). The decision gives Pi a sense of purpose, a distraction from the hopelessness of his situation—stranded in the middle of ocean, completely and utterly alone. If he killed Richard Parker, Pi acknowledges that he “would be left alone with despair, a foe even more formidable than a tiger” (Martel 164). He declares, “It was Richard Parker who calmed me down.
It is the irony of this story that the one who scared me witless to start with was the very same who brought me peace, purpose, I dare say even wholeness” (Martel 162). In the end, Pi was able to survive because of Richard Parker. He kept Pi from “thinking too much about [his] family and [his] tragic circumstances. He pushed [him] to go on living” (Martel 164). Richard Parker’s role as the foil character to Pi is characterized by the fear and determination that the tiger incites in Pi. Compared to the magnificent animal, Pi becomes a defenseless, hopeless human.
But, motivated by the feeling of weakness, Pi’s inner animalistic nature reveals itself. Through the daunting presence of Richard Parker, Pi discovered within himself that he had “a fierce will to live” (Martel 148). Richard Parker’s, the foil character’s, relationship with Pi personifies one of the major themes of the novel: the will to live. The entire novel is centered on Pi’s struggle to survive in this seemingly impossible, dangerous, and depressing situation. Pi’s instinct to survive is represented by the tiger itself. The qualities of Richard Parker, of the animalistic characteristics, were crucial to his survival.
Despite some hesitation, Pi ultimately learns to embrace Richard Parker. He learns to embrace that fierce will to live, learns to fight for survival and, in the end, makes it out alive. The Kite Runner and Life of Pi were both written with a foil character. In both novels, the character motivated and provoked the main protagonist into discovering himself. The fates of both main characters were determined by the ways their foil affected them. This relation between two characters not only significantly establishes the characters themselves, but illuminates the meaning of the work.