A Brief Description of Conflict

In literature, conflict is the struggle between opposing forces. Conflict is the driving force in the plot development of a story. Two types of conflict are internal and external conflicts. Internal conflict occurs when the main character struggles with issues and ideas with his inner self. External conflict occurs when the main character struggles with other characters or outside forces. The five basic forms of conflict are man vs. self, man vs. man, man vs. nature, man vs. society, and man vs. fate.

Man vs. Self

The character struggles with problems within himself. Self-esteem and body image are issues the character may deal with in the story. The plot may focus on how the character works to overcome his inner struggles. In Nathaniel Hawthorne's "Scarlet Letter," Reverend Dimmesdale struggles with the guilt of committing adultery and punishes himself in secret for this offense. In the same novel, Hester Prynne, must deal with loneliness after being ostracized from the community for the same offense.

Man vs. Man

The main character, the protagonist, opposes another character, the antagonist. In the story, the two characters do not have to be enemies, just on opposite sides of an issue. Alice Walker's novel "The Color Purple" depicts the struggle of an oppressed wife challenging and eventually freeing herself from an abusive husband. A character can also have a conflict with a group of characters instead of an individual. In Elie Wiesel's "Night," Elie struggles to stay alive while enduring cruel treatment at the hands of the Nazi regime.

Man vs. Nature

The character struggles with an aspect of nature. The character usually tries to survive a disaster or lives in a location with dangerous animals or weather conditions. "Into the Wild," by Jon Krakauer, tells the story of a young man's decision to leave civilization to live in the wilderness, only to be found dead by hunters four months later.

Man vs. Society

The character or maybe a group of characters struggles with the laws, beliefs, or values of a society. Conforming to societal norms or proving one's innocence after being accused of a crime are issues that cause conflict with society. In Harper Lee's "To Kill a Mockingbird," an African-American man must fight to prove his innocence when he is accused of raping a young white woman in a 1930s Southern town.

Man vs. Fate

The character fights against forces beyond his control to change his predetermined destiny. In Shakespeare's tragic play "Macbeth," the title character tries to change the fate prophesied to him by three witches. However, his actions lead him into making the prophesies come true.