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In a conflict of Character vs. Nature, a character must face things beyond their control in the natural world around them, including storms, wild and dangerous animals, and even disease or plague.

Character vs Nature

Character vs. Nature / Man vs. Nature

Characters often face elements of Nature that are beyond their control, and in a story it is often up to the protagonist to either solve or overcome these obstacles in order to survive or restore order to their world. The most basic conflict of a Character vs. Nature scenario in literature is one of survival. A character may be trapped on a desert island, or wandering through a forest, or surrounded by hungry lions. In order to survive, the protagonist must be clever, brave, and strong to overcome these challenges and get back to safety. Sometimes the defeat of these elements of nature will restore peace to the protagonist’s world, or teach them an important lesson which they will use to grow and mature.

Nature can also be considered an occurrence that can’t be stopped, such as famine, disease, plague, or a natural disaster. Issues such as cancer, depression, mental health issues, and physical disabilities that a protagonist must overcome or come to terms with are becoming more common in modern works of fiction. Nature is not typically viewed as a force in the work that can reason, like in a Character vs. Character monster scenario. Nature is a force, and it can be devastating to a character who must overcome Nature’s challenges and restore their world, or learn an important lesson.

Some scholars have grouped in “Fate” with the Character vs. Nature scenario, since it, too, is a “force” that cannot necessarily be defined. Fate is usually the destiny of a character that they try to avoid but inevitably, must face. Inspired by the ancient Greek tragedies, most of Shakespeare’s tragedies deal with characters that cannot escape their Fates, even though they try. The ancient Greek play Oedipus Rex by Sophocles highlights this inability to escape from Fate when Oedipus ultimately fulfills the Oracle’s prophecy that he would marry his mother and kill his father, even though King Laius tried to kill Oedipus as a baby.

Examples of Character vs. Nature

The Fault in Our Stars, the novel by John Green, highlights Hazel and Augustus’ battles with cancer, a force of Nature which neither teenager can control. While Hazel has a limited lifespan due to her own cancer, Augustus is a cancer survivor, but he soon falls ill again. While Hazel tries to avoid becoming romantically involved with Augustus because of her illness, the two eventually do fall in love, only to discover that Augustus’ cancer has returned and is terminal. Hazel and Augustus’ new battle is against Time and Death, two more forces of Nature that they cannot control, and that they ultimately lose.

In the novel Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston, Janie’s third husband Tea Cake is bitten by a rabid dog in the middle of a hurricane-induced flood in the Everglades. While they both survive the flood, the rabies eventually takes over Tea Cake’s mind, leading him to draw a gun on Janie, and Janie having to shoot him in self defense. In this case, the disease, rabies, is a force of Nature they cannot control. The hurricane, a natural disaster, was also something they could not control, and it brought about Tea Cake’s death and Janie’s trial for his murder.

In Elie Wiesel’s memoir Night, Elie recalls the inhumane conditions he and his father endured at the hands of the Germans in the concentration camp Auschwitz. Ultimately, the lack of nutrition, poor sanitary conditions, and a long march in the cold lead Elie’s father to develop dysentery, an intestinal disease from dirty water that eventually killed him, leaving Elie on his own.

In the short story “The Scarlet Ibis” by James Hurst, Doodle is afflicted by some sort of heart condition that makes him weak. While the narrator and Doodle work very hard to get Doodle to walk and be normal like other kids his age, Doodle ultimately can’t keep up with his brother. His brother abandons Doodle in a violent thunderstorm by running so fast that he knows Doodle can’t keep up. The combination of the storm, fear, and the exertion cause Doodle’s heart to give out.

Additional examples of Character vs. Nature

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