Tío Luis and Papa
Tío Luis's evilness makes Papa's goodness look even, well, good-er. (Just like a good foil should do, Tío Luis highlights Papa's most important characteristics.) Tío Luis is stingy, greedy and mean; plus, he doesn't have any family because he cares more about money and power than he does about people. What a difference from Papa, who generously gives land away to his employees and showers his family with love and affection. When evil Luis tries to take Papa's place, putting his feet on Papa's desk, wearing Papa's belt buckle, and even trying to marry Papa's wife, it's definitely creepy. He's like the anti-Papa.
Mama and Hortensia
Esperanza helps us out a bit on this one. Toward the beginning of the novel, she observes that Hortensia and Mama are physical opposites. Hortensia is a Zapotec Indian from Oaxaca, with a short and solid figure and long, dark hair that she wears in a braid down her back. Mama, on the other hand, is tall and elegant. She has light skin and wears her hair in a braided crown. The two women's differing appearances make us focus on their differing social stations, too. (Check out "Character Clues" for more on this.)
The United States and Mexico
Yep, you heard us right. Places can be foils for one another, too, and Esperanza Rising is constantly contrasting two locations: Mexico and the United States. The differences between the two countries highlight each of their unique characteristics—thank you, foils!
Mexico, Esperanza's homeland, is a place of great social inequality. A few lucky people, like Esperanza's family, live with great privilege and wealth, while most people are poor. Esperanza describes the divide between these two groups as an uncrossable river, because those born as servants will never be able to cross over to the side of the wealthy. Even getting a job in Mexico requires special connections—a "lever," as Miguel puts it. The United States, on the other hand, is imagined as the land of opportunity where anyone can earn a living and achieve their dreams if they just work hard enough.
This comparison is complicated when Esperanza's crew gets to the U.S. and finds out that racial discrimination, corruption, and injustice are problems there, too. But Miguel never backs down in his belief in the American Dream.