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Four Types of Conflict in Literature


Conflict is the foundation of most literature. Plot development hinges on some type of conflict between the main character or characters in the piece, and the story progresses as the characters work toward some type of conflict resolution. Most short stories focus on one type of conflict, while longer works may incorporate multiple types. Originally there were four types of conflict in literature, but a fifth one, Character vs. Supernatural, has emerged in fantasy and science fiction.

Character vs. Character

One of the simplest forms of conflict comes when one character is in opposition to another. Sometimes writers show this type of conflict between a villain and a hero, other times the conflict may take place between two sympathetic characters with opposing points of view. Shakespeare's Othello, an African prince, is placed in opposition to Iago, a vengeful ensign who uses deceit to try and destroy the life of the prince.

Character vs. Self
Moral dilemmas are a commonly used source of conflict.

Sometimes the conflict in literature does not come from external forces, but emerges through a moral dilemma within the character. In "Of Mice and Men" the main character, George Milton, has a conflict within himself about how to handle his disabled friend's care. He struggles between doing what is best for his friend and what is best for those around him, which becomes the central piece of conflict in the story.

Character vs. Nature
Natural disasters can cause conflict in literature.

Character vs. Nature conflict occurs when the character in the novel must battle some natural element, often a natural disaster. In "Their Eyes Were Watching God" by Zora Neale Hurston, the characters in the novel try to survive an impending hurricane. Hurston builds the novel's conflict in part on the main character's actions during the hurricane and in its aftermath.

Character vs. Society

A character is placed in opposition with society when his views or actions go against those of a dominant group. "Their Eyes Were Watching God" incorporates this type of conflict when the main character, Janie, abandons her prominent position as a mayor's widow to embark upon a romance with a drifter. Janie's desire for true love is in opposition to prevailing views on status and marriage at that time.

About the Author

Aja Dorsey Jackson is a writer and marketing consultant. She is class news editor of "Garrison Forest Magazine," has written for several Baltimore-based publications and is author of a blog. She holds a bachelor's degree in mass communications from Towson University.

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