Types of Conflicts in Literature
Have you ever had an argument with a friend or struggled between knowing what was right and what was wrong? Of course you have. Conflict exists everywhere, and it occurs on many levels. This clashing of ideas, actions, desires, or wits may occur on a physical, mental, emotional, or moral level. Conflict can be expressed through a clashing between two people, difficulties between a person and some natural force or the environment, and even between a person and his or her own ideas or values. However, it is not always easy to define or categorize or clarify conflict, especially in literature. In interpretive works, the conflict present is representative of real life. The problems are complex, and it is difficult to determine what is good from what is bad and what is right from what is wrong. There are no direct contrasts. These contrasts are less marked than the ones in works of escape literature. The conflict present in these types of fiction is extremely obvious and tends to be shown through the use of pitting the “good” guy against the “bad” guy. Through an examination of the conflicts present in “The Most Dangerous Game” and “The Destroyers,” this difference can clearly be seen.
For the most part, the problems that arise in everyday life do not have clearly defined meanings, and they are not always so clearly marked. However, in commercial fiction works such as “The Most Dangerous Game,” the conflict between protagonist and antagonist is clear-cut and identifiable. The purpose of such literary works is not to emulate life, but rather to allow the reader to escape into a world of fantasy where he or she knows what the struggles are and why they are occurring. The driving force for these types of fiction is the element of physical conflict that provides the vast majority of their excitement. Although the focus is mainly on the physical aspects of conflict, there will often be some sort of moral discord involved as well. This is a direct result of the physical discordance between the ever-present “good” guy and “bad” guy. For instance, in “The Most Dangerous Game,” Rainsford and General Zaroff have very different views about Zaroff’s game. Rainsford believes that it is nothing more than cold-blooded murder, while Zaroff holds a romanticized opinion on the value of human life. This difference in morals brings about the physical conflict: the hunt itself. Rainsford is forced to run through the jungle like an animal while Zaroff calmly and stealthily tracks him. While Rainsford is in the jungle, he encounters more conflict, but this time, the antagonists are not people. He must fight his way through the thick underbrush of the jungle, the quicksand of the swamp, and the raging sea, all the while battling within himself. Rainsford must continually calm his nerves in order to remain level headed and win the game. All of this disharmony and strife is purely for the continuation of excitement throughout the plot, and it is completely obvious to the reader and categorically unrealistic.
On the other hand, the conflict contained within interpretive literary works is not as conspicuous, and it more closely mirrors problems encountered in everyday life. It’s sole purpose is not simply to cause excitement and the continuation of the plot, but to make the reader think about what is happening and why. Just as in escape literature, there is physical conflict; however, the emphasis is not placed on the physical aspects but on the internal struggles because it is quite difficult to discern right from wrong and good from bad in the real world. The reader must become aware of the complexities involved and must realize and interpret the varying shades of moral values present. For example, in “The Destroyers,” there are physical conflicts in the story, but they are more or less in the form or animosities held between individuals rather than actual battles. Trevor, or T. as he is known by the gang, does not integrate well into the group because of his differing social background. Later, this difference causes even more friction between T. and Blackie, the leader of the gang, when T. takes command. This hostility present is not held exclusively within the gang. As a group, they all despise Old Misery, the old man living in the house near the car park. But all of this contention exists because of complicated reasons resulting from differences in social classes and differences between the old society and the new one that emerged after the war. Everything is intertwined and no clear-cut conflict exists. The differences between right and wrong are not as noticeable. Even though T., Blackie, and the rest of the gang destroyed Old Misery’s house, it is hard to completely blame them for what they did because the discrepancies are so difficult to make.
All kinds of conflict exist in literature, whether internal or external or concrete or abstract. It may be easily distinguished and interpreted, or it may be so vague or undefined that the reader must pay close attention to detect it and understand it. Either way, it functions to make a story exciting or to make an individual think about the world around her and the world within. Conflict is like the air around us; it can sustain us by providing the elements of life just as air provides oxygen. On the other hand, it can destroy us if it whirls out of control like a tornado. As with all things, balance is the essential key.