Types of Conflict In Literature

By Katherine Docimo

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Identifying major themes of literature and analyzing their development throughout a piece of text is part of ELA Common Core State Standards for grades 9-12 (Literacy.RL.9-10.2, Literacy.RL11-12.2). A common approach for this standard is to teach about the “Big Five” types of literary conflict: Man vs. Man, Man vs. Nature, Man vs. Society, Man vs. Self, and Man vs. Technology.

Storyboard That is the perfect way to engage high-school ELA students, and teach them to identify types of literary conflict. Visual cues in storyboards bring heady concepts, such as Man vs. Society and Man vs. Self, down to earth through “comic-strip” style illustrations and captions.

Teachers can create fun and easy-to-assess classwork that tasks high-school students with creating storyboards focusing on the types of conflict in literature. The linear nature of a storyboard mirrors the progression of conflict and reinforces learning. Students create storyboards using details and characters pulled from text, allowing teachers to determine almost immediately whether students comprehend the objectives.

The Five Types of Conflict in Literature

Man vs. Man or Character vs. Character

  • Characters are pitted against one another.

  • The antagonist (or other character) tries to keep the protagonist from reaching his goal.

  • The protagonist must overcome the efforts of the antagonist to reach his goal.

Man vs. Nature or Character vs. Nature

  • The hero must overcome a force of nature to meet his goal.

  • Nature can be a force of nature (like a storm, earthquake, or difficult climate) OR an animal from nature.

  • In literature, the hero sometimes meets his goal, but sometimes is defeated.

Man vs. Society or Character vs. Society

  • A protagonist sees something in a unique way.

  • People in his town or culture don't like his way of thinking. His bold ideas diverge from tradition or the rules. They ridicule and threaten him. He is compelled to act.

  • Our hero may convince the others he is right, but he might be forced to flee town. He may even lose his life.

Man vs. Self or Character vs. Self

  • The protagonist must overcome her own nature to reach her goal.

  • The protagonist struggles within her own mind.

  • The protagonist needs to overcome her struggle to reach the goal. She may, or may not, succeed.

Man vs. Technology or Character vs. Technology

  • The protagonist must overcome a machine or technology.

  • Most often the encounter with the machine or technology is through the character's own doing. For example, it may be technology or a machine that they created, purchased, or owned with the assumption that it would make their life easier.

  • Over time the protagonist must overcome the technology, in some instances, even destroying it before it destroys them.

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Example Exercises

  1. Identify the major conflict(s) of the class book via a storyboard.
  2. Create storyboards that show and explain, in their own words, the different types of conflict.
  3. Create storyboards that show the major type of conflict in their own creative writing or lives.
  4. (Using empty storyboard templates on a test) Fill in text boxes with dialogue that gives a clear example of each type of conflict and label them.

Teachers can customize the level of detail and number of cells required for projects based on available class time and resources.

Examples of Literary Conflict From Famous Books

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Another advantage to storyboarding is the ease with which storyboard assignments can be graded and assessed via a rubric.

Example Rubric

More Examples of Literary Conflict Activities

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