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What Are the Four Kinds of Conflict?


In literature, conflict refers to the main problem in a story that must be resolved by the end of the book. It is conflict that provides the building blocks for the story. While a story may include more than one form of conflict, there is always a main conflict that drives it forward. The conflict is what makes the reader stay with the book until the a resolution is reached. There are four kinds of conflict in literature, and each one is unique. (See References: What is the problem?)

Man versus Man

Man versus man is a common struggle in literature. In many pieces, the protagonist struggles with and finally overcomes the antagonist in the story. An amusing example of man versus man is found in "How to Eat Fried Worms" by Thomas Rockwell. Alan and Billy make a $50 bet that Billy cannot eat 15 worms in 15 days. The story continues as both boys struggle to be the winner of the bet.

Man Versus Nature

Many literary works include the conflict between man and nature. In this conflict, an individual comes up against the forces of nature, such as weather or animals. In "Hatchet" by Gary Paulsen, the main character, Brian, enters into a contest against nature when his plane crashes after the pilot dies of a heart attack. Alone in the Canadian wilderness with just a hatchet, Brian must find a way to overcome his opponents, including wild animals and weather.

Man versus Self

Man versus self is the one conflict that is internal. When the main character in a story has to overcome great odds, make a decision, deal with a bad habit or character trait or avoid temptation, the entire conflict focuses on the individual. An example of man versus self is found in "The Red Badge of Courage" by Stephen Crane. Henry struggles within himself when he runs away from battle. The conflict is between his desire to survive and his desire to become a real soldier.

Man versus Society

Man versus society focuses on the struggle between an individual and the society in which he lives. The character in these conflicts has an issue with customs, ideas or practices with other people or the government. As example of man versus society is found in "The Giver" by Lois Lowry. Jonas, the protagonist in the story, must decide whether to take his role of the giver in the community or risk everything to save the life of a small child.

About the Author

Joan Collins began writing in 2008. Specializing in health, marriage, crafts and money, her articles appear on eHow. Collins earned a Bachelor of Arts in education from the University of Northern Colorado and a Master of Arts in instructional technology from American InterContinental University.

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