What Are the Five Types of Literary Conflict?

The five basic types of literary conflict are internal conflict, external conflict, person versus person, person versus nature and person versus self. Categories of literary conflict can be simplified to internal conflict and external conflict, or they can be expanded to seven different types. The person versus self conflict is sometimes placed within the realm of internal conflict, thereby producing four basic types of literary conflict.

Hamlet’s soliloquy that starts “to be or not to be” is an example of internal, or person versus self, conflict. Hamlet struggles with the decisions he makes and the thought processes that lead to this actions later in William Shakespeare’s masterpiece.

Person versus person conflict features at least one protagonist versus an antagonist. In an example from “Lord of the Flies,” the leader of one gang of boys physically goes against the leader of a rival gang stranded on an island. Person versus nature is also prevalent in “Lord of the Flies” as the boys must survive on an island with no civilization.

Person versus society conflict occurs when the protagonist fights against something inherent in human society, such as unjust laws, totalitarian governments, poverty, homelessness, civil rights or societal norms. Novels such as “To Kill and Mockingbird,” “Fahrenheit 451” and “1984” typify these struggles.

Another form of literary conflict is person versus god, or person versus the supernatural. This occurs when a character has conflict with forces seemingly beyond that person’s control, a concept sometimes known as fate. Person versus god and person versus supernatural conflicts are often grouped in the person versus self category of conflict.