Definition of a Major Conflict

In In Kate Grenville's "The Secret River," the major conflict is that between the aborigines and the European colonists.

In literature, the major conflict is the primary driving force of the plot. A narrative conflict can be between any two characters or entities, but the major conflict is that between the protagonist or antagonist, whether that's an individual or a collective group. The progression and resolution of this major conflict forms the shape of the overall plot.

Man Against Himself

The major conflict of a story can be an internal struggle within a character. This often takes on the form of psychomachia: a conflict between the soul and the flesh. Notable examples include that of Arthur Dimmesdale in Nathaniel Hawthorne's "The Scarlet Letter" and the titular character in "Dr. Faustus" by Christopher Marlowe.

Man Against Man

This type of conflict is between two characters. Usually one character appears as the protagonist, with whom the author wants the reader to sympathize, though sometimes both sides have positive traits. Examples include that between Ralph and Jack in "The Lord of the Flies" by William Golding and Valjean and Javert in Victor Hugo's "Les Miserables."

Man Against Society

This type of conflict involves an individual warring against the greater force of society around him, often to put an end to injustice or oppression, though at other times merely to survive. Some examples are those of Winston in "1984" by George Orwell, the monster in Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein," and, particularly obviously, Dr. Stockmann in Henrik Ibsen's "An Enemy of the People."

Man Against Nature

This type of conflict most often plays a part in stories of survival, in which man wrestles against wild animals and the elements. The most iconic example of this is that of Robinson Crusoe in Daniel Defoe's novel named after him. Man versus nature is the major conflict in "Moby-Dick" by Herman Melville, but Captain Ahab's battle with the White Whale is also a character versus character conflict.

Man Against Fate

This type of conflict is most prominent in stories that present a deterministic reality. While the character can never truly defeat fate, the cryptic nature of prophesy maintains suspense. If the character does succeed, it is only by means of a prophetic loophole. Shakespeare used this often, using it as a major conflict in both "Macbeth" and "Romeo and Juliet."

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