Father Foils

In Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, the protagonist Aristotle is shown to have very limited connections to other men. Besides the boys of his own age to whom he can’t relate to in the realm of sexuality, Aristotle also has a very unclear relationship with his incarcerated brother, about whom he knows very little. But most significant to the novel is the distant relationship he has with his father. From Ari’s perspective, the relationship is marked by longing and uncertainty. One mystery about his father that is referenced over a dozen times in the first section of the novel is the secrecy Ari’s father keeps about his experience in the Vietnam war. At one point, Aristotle even obsesses over his father’s finger as it “tapped the book with approval. That finger had pulled a trigger in a war” (Saenz 35).

In contrast to their relationship, the reader also sees the very opposite father-son relationship between Ari’s eventual love interest Dante and his father. From Ari’s first introduction to Dante’s father, he notes a strong contrast between the affection levels, as Dante greets his father with a kiss on the cheek, which makes Ari feel quite uncomfortable.

Another foil presented in this novel is between the two mothers. Aristotle’s mother is very open and welcoming, while Dante’s mother by comparison is reasonably reserved. A loose parallel that could be drawn is that between the two sets of spouse, namely that Aristotle’s mother seems more similar to Dante’s father and that Aristotle’s father seems more similar to Dante’s mother. However, perhaps it is unfair to parallel Aristotle’s father’s distance with Dante’s mother’s reservation. “It was just that when Dante said that his mother was inscrutable, I knew exactly what he was saying” (Saenz 125).



Do you think as much of the narrative would deal with the distance Ari feels between himself and his father if he did not know the relationship between Dante and his father?

How significant to the narrative is the foil between the two mothers, in comparison to the foil of the two fathers?


4 thoughts on “Father Foils

  1. The foils with their parents as you referred to make me think of how much Aristotle and Dante are foils. With Dante being an only child, having a close father and distant mother, and from a higher economic status, Aristotle has siblings (very limited presence in the novel), has a close mother and distant father. To answer your questions, I believe the reason for foils of the fathers playing a larger role is because the narrator is Aristotle. In my own experience, it is easier to point out how someone’s life is better than mine because they have something that I am lacking of or they have something that is example of how my life can improved. Because I believe that if Dante was the narrator, the situation would have been reversed. If Dante was the narrator, I think the foils of the mothers will play a larger role as Ari and his mother share a playful banter but Dante and his mother have a more distant relationship. I think the foils of the mothers are less significant than the foils of the fathers. To me, the foils of the mothers is there to be another thing of how Ari and Dante are different from one another.


  2. Considering the foils throughout all the literature we’ve read, the idea reprises in Nevada between Maria and James. Maria is a emotionally unstable post-transition transwoman who is on a wild run across the county in order to find herself. James is a desperate, emotionally unstable boy who may be pre-transition. However, it is in their interactions between each other that they truly begin to understand what the other can do for each other. In Ari and Dante’s case, they end up discovering their love for each other, whereas in Maria and James’ case, they simply diverge apart. Huh, wild!


  3. I agree with Amy in the sense that the foil between Dante and Ari’s father is more significant in the novel than of the two mothers. Personally, I think it was important for Saenz to both give Dante and show Aristotle a very close and affectionate father and son relationship to make him aware of how distant he truly is from his father. Even though I think to some extent Ari knew, I don’t think he realized how different his relationship to his father really is. Furthermore, I think after seeing Dante’s relationship with his father it made Ari is more open to closing that distance between him and his father. He never explicitly asks him questions but implicitly he begins to talk to him more and understand him in moments where normally Aristotle would get frustrated with his dad’s actions.


  4. I do think that the narrative of Ari’s relationship with his father would still be just as relevant if Dante’s were not revealed. He already had some idea that his relationship with his father was odd because of the PTSD and his relationship with his mother. If he hadn’t seen the interaction between Dante and his father I still think he would spend a lot of time exploring why his father was so distant, ESPECIALLY in the context of his relationship with his brother. He might have used casual interactions he would see between other fathers and their sons, but I still think that the relationship of Dante and his father is normal enough for it to be something Ari would observe without him.


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