The second half of The Two Towers belongs to Frodo, Sam, and Gollum. And obviously, it's an exciting plot arc: will Gollum double-cross Our Heroes? Will Frodo and Sam be spotted creeping into Mordor? Will Frodo give in to the evil pull of the Ring? There is a lot riding on their part of the quest, obviously. But still, we'll be honest—it's a little repetitive. Sam and Gollum fight, Frodo broods, they sneak through increasingly barren land… and so it goes. So when Frodo and Sam bump into Faramir and his band of Gondorians, it comes as a relief. Finally, the hobbits get to have a conversation with someone who isn't Gollum. It's like a vacation, both for Our Heroes and for the reader.
Faramir is the first man from Gondor (besides his brother, Boromir) that the hobbits have ever met. Just by existing, Faramir turns our attention to the next major scene of the action in these novels. At least for the non-hobbits of the trilogy, it's going to be all Gondor all the time from here on out. Faramir also proves that not all the guys in Gondor are big, overly ambitious lugs like Boromir. Sure, Faramir is a captain in the Gondorian army. But Faramir is also a foot smarter, and a lot more careful, than his bigger, bolder brother.
You want proof? Just think of the fact that when Sam blurts out that Frodo has the Ring of Power (or "Isildur's Bane") on him, Faramir doesn't try to steal it. In fact, his response is a breath of fresh air for these weary hobbits:
"But fear no more! I would not take [the Ring], if it lay by the highway. Not were Minas Tirith falling in ruin and I alone could save her, so, using the weapon of the Dark Lord for her good and my glory. No, I do not wish for such triumphs, Frodo son of Drogo. (4.5.72)
Wow. We know what happens to people when they take the Ring (we're looking at you, Ringwraiths), but we don't think we could turn down a Ring of Power so easily. And Faramir is just like, nope, no thank you, not if I were the last man in Minas Tirith. That is some serious moral fiber, right there. Faramir is one righteous dude.
Take a look at the terms Faramir uses when he promises not to take the Ring: "I do not wish for such triumphs." See, Faramir is too humble to take the Ring, which is why he is safe from its evil lure. He's like Boromir's opposite: Boromir wanted to take the Ring to save Minas Tirith (and to win glory for himself), while Faramir knows it would be better to let Minas Tirith burn than to save it with such evil weapons.
We've been ragging a lot on Boromir here, and we don't mean to. For one thing, we know he redeems himself 100% (see his "Character Analysis" for how). For another thing, Faramir clearly loves him. The poor guy saw a vision of Boromir floating down the River Anduin after his death, for Pete's sake. No wonder he's so broken up about his brother's passing.
Faramir's grief immediately makes him appear quite serious and deep as a character. It makes us respect and sympathize with him, even though he doesn't appear for that long in The Two Towers. Obviously, we're going to see more of plucky Captain Faramir in the next book, when Aragorn and Company get to Gondor. Tolkien wants us to like him right off the bat when he appears in The Return of the King, so he shows us all of Faramir's good qualities in a couple of chapters in this book. You might even say that Tolkien is giving us a head start on liking Faramir.
Our last word on Faramir: dude's a know-it-all. He has obviously studied the history of Gondor and Númenor, and he's eager to share that information with an audience. During their stay in Ithilien, he gives Frodo and Sam some background on Gondor, but really, this context is meant for us, so that we know what's going on before we start The Return of the King).
Thanks to Faramir, we understand that Gondor is at the end of a long, slow decline. The men of Gondor are the last descendants of the even greater Men of Númenor. When Númenor was destroyed (which we'll learn more about in The Return of the King), the Númenoreans downgraded to Men of Gondor.
The Gondorians are still pretty great compared to the other shlubs of Middle-earth. Their capital city of Minas Tirith is famously beautiful, and the people are well educated and strong. But every year, their population and power has been decreasing. One reason for this? The line of kings has dwindled and died out, leaving a family of stewards to look after the land until the king returns. (Gee. Wonder who that returning king might be? We're pretty sure his name starts with A, ends with n, and has "ragor" somewhere in the middle.)
Faramir complains: "We are become Middle Men, of the Twilight, but with memory of other things" (4.5.124). In other words, the Gondorians are becoming more and more ordinary (more like the men of Rohan, Faramir says, which we think would make Éomer really angry—what's wrong with being like the Rohirrim?). These days, with the rise of Sauron, the Gondorians have come to care more about fighting than about the learning that made their city famous. So that's the current, sad status quo in Gondor, all of which we learn thanks to the handy dandy, wide ranging knowledge of our new favorite Captain.