Conflict Definition

In literature, a conflict is a literary element that involves a struggle between two opposing forces usually a protagonist and an antagonist.

Internal and External Conflicts

Careful examination of the succeeding conflict examples will help us realize that conflicts may be internal or external. An internal or psychological conflict arises as soon as a character experiences two opposite emotions or desires; usually virtue or vice, or good and evil inside him. This disagreement causes a character to suffer mental agony. Internal conflict develops a unique tension in a storyline marked by a lack of action.

External conflict, on the other hand, is marked by a characteristic involvement of an action wherein a character finds himself in struggle with those outside forces that hamper his progress. The most common type of an external conflict is where a protagonist fights back against the antagonist’s tactics that impede his or her advancement.

Conflict Examples in Literature

Let us have a look at some examples of conflict in literature:

Example #1

Hamlet’s internal conflict is the main conflict in William Shakespeare’s play “Hamlet”. This internal conflict decides his tragic downfall. He reveals his state of mind in the following lines from Act 3, Scene 1 of the play:

“To be, or not to be–that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles
And by opposing end them. To die, to sleep…”

The conflict here is that he wants to kill his father’s murderer Claudius but he also looks for proof to justify his action, ultimately ruining his life and the lives of his loved ones. Due to his internal conflict, he spoils his relationship with his mother and sends Ophelia (Hamlet’s love interest) into such a state of despair that she commits suicide. Hamlet’s internal conflict, which is regarded as indecisiveness, almost got everyone killed at the end of the play. The resolution to the conflict came when he killed Claudius by assuming fake madness so that he would not be asked for any justification. In the same play, we find Hamlet engaged in an external conflict with his uncle Claudius.

Example #2

Another example of an internal conflict is found in the character of Doctor Faustus in Marlowe’s “Doctor Faustus”. Faustus has an ambitious nature. In spite of being a respected scholar, he sold his soul to “Lucifer” by signing a contract with his blood for achieving ultimate power and limitless pleasure in this world. He learns the art of black magic and defies Christianity.

After the aforementioned action, we see Faustus suffering from an internal conflict where he thinks honestly about repenting, acting upon the advice of “the good angel” but “the bad angel” or the evil inside him distracts him by telling that it is all too late. In conclusion, the conflict is resolved when devils take his soul away to Hell and he suffers eternal damnation because of his over-ambition.

Example #3

The most straightforward type of external conflict is when a character in a story struggles against another character physically. In William Golding’s novel “The Lord of the Flies” for example, Ralph (the leader of the “good guys”) steadily comes into conflict with Jack (a bully who later forms a “tribe” of hunters). Jack and his “tribe” give in to their savage instinct and make attempts to hunt or kill the civilized batch of boys headed by Ralph.

Example #4

Another kind of external conflict sets a character against the evil that dominates a society. In such kind of conflict, a character may confront a dominant group with opposing priorities. For instance, in Harper Lee’s novel “To Kill a Mockingbird”, an honest lawyer Atticus Finch goes up against the racist society in which he lives. Atticus has the courage to defend a black man, Tom Robinson, who has been falsely accused of a rape. Though Atticus has the support of a few like-minded people, most of the town express their disapproval of his defense of a black man.

Function of Conflict

Both internal and external conflicts are essential elements of a storyline. It is essential for a writer to introduce and develop conflict, internal or external or both, in his storyline in order to achieve a story goal i.e. the resolution of a conflict in order to entertain his readers.

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5 comments for “Conflict

  1. maria
    January 26, 2015 at 6:58 am

    thank you for these notes.

    • Berthude Margrethe Catastrophe IV
      October 21, 2015 at 11:12 am

      You’re Welcome!

  2. Tenzin Namgyel
    October 27, 2015 at 7:49 pm

    the first example needs to be re-edited

  3. Isiah Murray
    December 1, 2015 at 10:30 am

    i think so too

  4. Unknown
    March 5, 2017 at 2:57 pm

    Thank you so much for helping me! :’D

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