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Character vs. Character is an external conflict in which two or more characters are pitted against one another in a battle, either literally or figuratively. The outcome can bring about maturity and growth, or a restoration of peace in the protagonist’s world.

Character vs. Character / Man vs. Man

Character vs. Character is one of the most common conflicts found in literature, both fictional and nonfictional, and often involves elements of irony. The protagonist of the story usually must face some sort of challenge from an enemy or force, sometimes in a physical battle, and sometimes in a psychological battle. In physical battles, protagonists often face the antagonist of the story directly, and defeat them with weapons or other combat. This is typically the simplest form of Character vs. Character battles; sometimes it can be more complicated.

Sometimes the Character vs. Character battle is a kingdom or country which has to fight against another kingdom or country for land, freedom from oppression, or a religious purpose. In other instances, the conflict can arise from more psychological reasons, such as bullying, intimidation, sabotage, greed, hatred, or jealousy. There are a myriad of reasons why one character in a story might have to defeat another in order to restore order to their world, or to learn an important lesson from which they mature, or grow.

Another kind of battle between characters is figurative. This typically arises from psychological reasons, but the battle is fought not through physical contact, but through intelligence, words, or a clever plan. For instance, in William Shakespeare’s play The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet, Juliet and Romeo do not physically battle against their families’ long-standing feud; instead, they take a stand for their love for one another by getting married in secret. Their hope is that the revelation of their marriage will ultimately force their families to resolve their feud, which is what they are figuratively battling against.

In addition, a character in a Character vs. Character conflict does not have to be human; it simply can be another character that can reason within the story. For example, many infamous evil monsters have battled famous heroes, including the Cyclops in The Odyssey, Grendel in Beowulf, Dr. Frankenstein’s monster, the aliens in The Monsters are Due on Maple Street, and even the Devil himself. Many of these monsters have forced heroes and protagonists to fight physically, or to fight for what they believe in.

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Character vs. Character Examples

In the novel The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, Katniss must outsmart the Gamemakers and other characters in the arena in order to survive. She also figures out how to win the Games by threatening to eat the poisonous berries with Peeta, so that they would both die. While her physical survival is a conflict, her mental outwitting of the Gamemakers and other opponents is a figurative conflict as well.

S.E. Hinton’s novel The Outsiders reveals a Character vs. Character conflict between two gangs in school, the Greasers (the poor kids) and the Socs (short for “Socials”, the wealthy kids). Ponyboy and Johnny flee after Johnny kills a Soc named Bob to protect Ponyboy from a violent confrontation with Bob. This incident causes tensions to mount between the two gangs, resulting in a major battle in which the Greasers win.

In William Shakespeare’s play The Tragedy of Julius Caesar, Brutus’ agony over Caesar’s sudden rise to power and seemingly dangerous ambition drive him to agree to conspire with Cassius and others to kill his friend for the good of Rome. While Brutus does physically kill Caesar, his enemy was Caesar’s ambition, rather than Caesar as a person. This leads to a brutal civil war between Brutus and Cassius’ forces, and Antony and Octavius’ forces.

Washington Irving’s short story “The Devil and Tom Walker” shows Tom making a deal with the Devil in return for treasure which will make him a very wealthy man. After Tom’s wife is killed by the Devil, Tom decides to make a deal with him, and becomes a wealthy usurer. However, as he becomes older, he begins to worry about the deal he made with the Devil: he signed his soul away. He has been trying to reverse his deal by going to church and reading the Bible in an attempt to keep the Devil from cashing in on his end of the bargain, but it is a fruitless battle. A knock at the door many years later reveals the Devil, who, it is said, carried Tom away to Hell.

In Arthur C. Clarke’s short story “If I Forget Thee, Oh Earth…”, Marvin’s father takes him on an expedition to see Earth, their former home, from their current colony on the moon. The Earth has been destroyed by nuclear war, and it is not safe to return yet; it probably will not be safe to return for a few more generations. However, the conflict in this story is against themselves and complacency. Each child is shown the world they can’t go home to yet, because they need to know the importance of continuing to survive until they can return. It will be a battle of time and endurance, but ultimately, they will leave their exile and return home.

Learn more about various devices in literature in our Picture Encyclopedia of Literary Elements!
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