What is the conflict in Gary Schmidt's Okay for Now?

Expert Answers
teachsuccess eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Another conflict in Okay for Now is Doug versus himself (character versus self).

In chapter 3, Doug is upset that Jane Eyre is the assigned reading for his English class. He insists that he will not read it. At this point, we can only surmise the reasons for Doug's dismissal of the book. In chapter 4, we discover (along with Mr. Ferris) that Doug cannot read. Privately, the educator consults with Miss Cowper, who sets out to acquaint Doug with the rudiments of phonics. This changes things for Doug, and he begins to gain an appreciation for reading. The description of Doug's struggles demonstrate the difficulties he has to overcome in his journey toward a greater sense of self. 

In chapter 4, we also discover that Doug's terrible secret has been discovered. His peers now know that he has an embarrassing tattoo with the words "Mama's Baby" etched onto his chest. As Doug pours out his pain to Mr. Ferris, we come to understand how deeply our young protagonist has been scarred by his father's abusive actions. In order to heal from his past, Doug must learn new ways of relating to himself, his father, and others. 

It is a difficult process, however. In chapter 5, Doug wrestles with his sense of shame and anger. He begins to indulge in self-destructive behavior, gets into fights in school, and stops going to the library. In other words, Doug finds himself on the losing side in the battle against his rage. Later, however, after Mr. Swieteck lies about having taken the hundred dollar prize and signed baseball from Mr. Ballard, Doug decides to challenge his father. He barely dodges his father's fists as he races out of the house.

This interaction between father and son demonstrates Doug's changing perspective and his growing appreciation for the power of truth. No matter the circumstance or challenge, the truth is irrevocable and unflinching. Mr. Swieteck may be bigger, but he cannot argue with the facts. The moment inspires Doug with the realization that his father's outlook on life is flawed and that he, Doug, has the power to choose his purpose and destiny. It is only after Doug rejects his father's distorted perspectives that he is able to begin his journey towards emotional healing.

Tamara K. H. eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The conflict in a story is the "struggle between two opposing forces," and those forces are usually the protagonist and the antagonist (Literary Devices, "Conflict"). Since a conflict is literally a battle or a struggle, we can easily describe conflicts as something vs. something else. There are four major conflicts found in literature: character vs. character, character vs. society, character vs. nature, and character vs. self.

In Gary Schmidt's novel Okay for Now, the greatest major conflict is that between the protagonist Doug Swieteck and his abusive father, which we can describe as character vs. character. Doug suffers from many conflicts in the novel, but all other conflicts stem from this poor relationship with his father. For example, as a result of his father's abusiveness and poor example as a role model, Doug also experiences other conflicts with his brother Lucas, who is as abusive as their father. Doug even suffers conflicts with society as a result of having an unstable family. For example, when Spicer's Deli is burgled, police suspect Lucas since they are new in town, making Doug feel like, as Lil phrases it, quoting Mrs. Merriam, "a hoodlum in training" (p. 95). Another way in which Doug struggles against society is his inability to read, which is also a result of his unstable family. However, his English teacher starts coaching Doug in reading, and he proves to be a very fast learner.