Guide to Literary Terms

Start Your Free Trial

What are internal and external conflicts in literature? Man vs. Man, Nature and Self--what are they?

Expert Answers info

kbrady4030 eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2009

write6 answers

starTop subject is Literature

In terms of literary characteristics, the conflicts within a story are not always easy to identify.  A brief overview of each type of conflict should adapt universally to literature.

Internal vs. External conflict: Internal conflict exists when a character is wrestling with an idea or characteristic that exists within him or herself.  An example might be a character that isn't sure about his or her feelings.  He or she may have to make a choice between right and wrong.   This is called "man vs. self."

External conflict conflict occurs when two characters in a storyline are pitted against one another.  Often these are the protagonist and the antagonist or "foil."  This type of external conflict is known as "man vs. man."

The other external conflict occurs when a character must battle something in the world around him or her.  Perhaps an element of nature, like a storm or a drought.  That type of external conflict is called "man vs. nature."

check Approved by eNotes Editorial

maria-vivanco | Student

Characters in stories can experience both external and internal conflicts throughout  the plot.  These conflicts include:


man v self: This type of problem happens when the character has internal problem with themselves that may be caused by a moral confrontation or something of that sort.  


man vs man: pretty self explanatory. A story with a man vs man conflict involves a character fighting with another character.

man vs nature: the conflict is when nature limits or confront the characters . It can be that the characters are stranded in a island where that would limit their resources.

man vs world: this conflict is when characters are faced with problems with society or society norms.