What Is the Man Versus Nature Conflict?

In man versus nature conflicts in literature, each plot features a protagonist, not necessarily a man or even a human, struggling against nature. There are three primary literary conflict patterns: man versus man, man versus himself, and man versus nature.

Almost every story includes at least one conflict at its heart. This conflict includes the protagonist, “man,” versus some other entity of equal or greater power. In the man versus nature (sometimes called “man versus environment”) conflicts, the protagonist’s goals are set in opposition to some force of nature. For instance, Jack London’s short story “To Build a Fire” has the unnamed protagonist struggling to survive in a vast frozen wilderness. In Herman Melville’s classic novel “Moby Dick,” Captain Ahab hunts the giant whale Moby Dick. In a more contemporary example, “Finding Nemo,” the clownfish Marlin struggles against the vastness and danger of the ocean to find his son Nemo.

Story plots, especially in longer works, are rarely limited to a single plot pattern. Usually, two or more will be interwoven; for example, “The Wizard of Oz” starts with a “man” (Dorothy) versus nature (the tornado) plot, but it quickly segues into the witch versus Dorothy, which is a man-versus-man plot pattern. Additionally, there may be from three to seven different basic plot patterns, depending on whose theory is being followed. However, “man versus nature” is included in every list.