The concept of a literary "foil" character is one seen in many a great work of fiction throughout history. A foil is a character (usually a minor one) that, either through direct comparison or through stark contrast, highlights significant traits of a major character (often the protagonist). Through this relationship that showcases the strengths and flaws of various characters, a message or meaning can be gleaned from the book. One such example of this occurs in what is considered by many to be Charles Dickens' magnum opus, Great Expectations. In Great Expectations, Herbert Pocket, Pip's best friend, is a foil to Pip for various reasons like his opposing view on life and his social habits. Their relationship exemplifies the message of Great Expectations, that money and social standing can either make or break a person's life.
The primary reason for why Herbert is a foil to Pip is their easily observable differences in their social origins. Pip begins life in a very poor house with his bossy sister and her jovial husband. He has virtually no money and few prospects beyond becoming a smith like his brother-in-law, Joe. Compare this to Herbert, who comes from a family of reasonably high wealth and social standing, and who has a whole world of choices for his future. It is also interesting to note that while Pip dreams of becoming a gentleman and escaping his low social class and status, Herbert wishes to move in the opposite direction- his biggest dream is to start out on his own and make a fortune for himself as a capitalist merchant. "'Then the time comes,' said Herbert, 'when you see your opening. And you go in, and you swoop upon it and you make your capital, and then there you are! When you have once made your capital, you have nothing to do but employ it.'" (143). Pip's response to this, saying that he thinks Herbert's head is in the clouds, shows that he views his goals in an opposite way from Herbert, showcasing their differing social origins.