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In literature, a foil is a character who sets off another by contrast.In the case of Orest, here is a young man who seemingly has no fear of death.Jack is sure that Vernon thinks he is incompetent on account of this difference between them.
In fact, Vernon is a contrast to Jack in every way.
He is practical and knows how to repair things, a skill Jack lacks.
Jack later explains to Babette his feelings about the child: “He is selfish without being grasping, selfish in a totally unbounded and natural way.
There’s something wonderful about how he drops one thing, grabs for another” (209).
Jack, who acts with much more deliberation and calculation, would never do something like that.
More to the point, Vernon make fun of his own ailments.The black humor or absurdist writers—among them Joseph Heller and Eugène Ionesco—offered less a specifically political and American agenda than a philosophical stance toward humanity and its condition: Life is absurd, and in the face of it all one can do, most often, is to laugh hysterically.All of these writers belong to the rich tradition of satirists who look unflinchingly at people and their pretentions, communicating their horror and humor to the reader.His like-minded contemporaries and literary antecedents are more obvious than obscure.The contemporary writer with whom De Lillo is most obviously aligned is Thomas Pynchon, who, in novels such as (1973), dramatizes humanity’s precarious existence in a technological nightmare-world where conspiracy abounds.Jack finds this incredible; he does not understand how Orest can do something that seems to defy the natural human fear of death.This is why he questions Orest so persistently, trying to find out what the young man’s motivations are. How do Vernon Dickey and Orest Mercator act as foils to Jack?Both Vernon Dickey, Jack’s father-in-law, and Orest Mercator, a friend of Jack’s son, Heinrich, acts as foils to Jack in terms of their very different attitudes to death.He smokes, has a nasty, persistent cough, has a limp, suffers from insomnia, and his left hand shakes, among other conditions.Babette worries about him but he does not worry about himself. His innocence, which fascinates Jack, is often contrasted to Jack’s worried condition. Wilder has not yet learned to talk, and his mother and stepfather comment that they prefer it that way; it is as if they want Wilder to live in a state of innocence forever in the hope that some of that innocent condition will rub off on them.