By Rebecca Ray and Kristy Littlehale

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Do you remember a time when you had to make a choice and each option was equally unpleasant? Perhaps you lied, and something terrible happened, or you were faced with the task of divulging the truth and being punished for lying. This mess is called a dilemma: a situation that challenges an agreeable solution. In literature, dilemmas form the central conflict many protagonists encounter. Many people face all kinds of dilemmas in life, and the choice they make can have long-lasting impacts. Sometimes these dilemmas have even caused changes in society and history! Common dilemmas include: classical, ethical, and moral.

Dilemma Examples - Definition Template
Create your own at Storyboard That INTRODUCTION OPTION 1 OPTION 2 DILEMMA Hi! I am your main character and I have a problem. It can be solved, but there are consequences. The first solution isn't good because it means __________ will happen. The second option is not good either because it means _________ will happen.


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Classical Dilemma

A classical dilemma is a choice between two or more alternatives, in which the outcomes are equally undesirable, or equally favorable. The dilemma does not typically involve a moral or ethical crisis, but the person or character’s life may change as a result of their decision. Some examples of classical dilemmas include:

Classical dilemmas are more than simple choices, because they usually prompt the person to think about the outcomes of the choices. As a result, a character in a story may find themselves on an adventure, in fear for their lives, or instituting change because of the choice they made in their dilemma.

Examples of Classical Dilemmas in Literature
Create your own at Storyboard That Image Attributions: Historic Route 66 ( - Randy Heinitz - License: Attribution ( A RAISIN IN THE SUN CONTENTS OF THE DEAD MAN'S POCKET ROMEO AND JULIET THE GRAPES OF WRATH After Walter loses the family's money in a bad investment, and Mr. Lindberg visits the family with a veiled threat, the Youngers must decide whether to move to the new house anyways, or stay in their apartment. When Tom Benecke's paper with all of his work flies out of the window, he must decide whether to let months' of work disappear into the night, or to go out after it. Romeo discovers, through an illiterate servant, that there is going to be a party at the Capulets' home that evening. He discovers that his one true love Rosaline's name is on the guest list. He must decide whether or not to crash the party in order to see her again. The Joads must decide what to do after they lose their farm to the bank. With other families in similar situations and heading towards the San Joaquin Valley in California, the Joads conclude that they can find work and a brighter future there, too. CLASSICAL DILEMMA


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Ethical Dilemma

An ethical dilemma arises when a person is forced to decide between two morally sound options, but they may conflict with the established boundaries of a business, a governmental agency, or the law. Some ethical dilemmas may involve following the truth versus being loyal to a friend; following the laws or rules versus having compassion for an individual’s plight; and concerns about an individual person versus the larger impact on a community. An ethical dilemma differs from a moral dilemma because it very much involves following rules rather than one’s conscience, although one’s conscience can certainly move an individual to consider breaking the rules.

Ethical dilemmas are especially important in the medical and criminal justice fields, and in careers such as social work and psychology. In addition, most public servants have to undergo ethics training to address common dilemmas they may come across while working with the public. Recent advancements in science have also brought forward interesting and uncharted ethical dilemmas. Some examples of ethical dilemmas include:

Examples of Ethical Dilemmas in Literature
Create your own at Storyboard That TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD FLOWERS FOR ALGERNON INHERIT THE WIND GREAT EXPECTATIONS Atticus is under intense pressure from many citizens in the town to not properly defend Tom Robinson at trial; however, he holds himself and his professionalism to high standards, and not not defend Tom would violate his ethical obligations (and his moral values). Charlie has an IQ of 68, and has been selected for an experimental procedure to increase it. The doctors involved have taken an oath to do no harm, but they seem motivated more by fame than by the ethics outlined in their profession. Despite the fact that it is illegal to teach evolution in school, Bert Cates disobeys the law and reads to his students from Darwin's "The Origin of Species." Mr. Jaggers takes Abel Magwitch on as a client, even though he knows he is an exiled convict. When he finds out that Magwitch has returned, he has an ethical obligation to report him. Instead, he makes Pip have a very careful hypothetical conversation about Magwitch. ETHICAL DILEMMA