Conflict can take two basic forms. External conflict is what we see when a character struggles against an outside force, person, or group of people. Internal conflict is a psychological struggle -- a character fighting opposing feelings or forces within him or her.
In this story, Bradbury presents us with both forms of conflict. There are at least two external conflicts at work:
- man versus machine
- parents versus children
There is also an internal conflict: complacency versus recognition of danger. George Hadley, the father, is wrestling with his own doubts. He begins with a complacent view about his lifestyle and family relationships, and is resistant to the idea that his technological devices -- and children -- pose a grave threat. But he becomes increasingly disturbed by the evidence, and finally changes his mind.
Let's consider these conflicts, and how they are supported by the text.
1. Man versus machine
This conflict is evident in the climax: The room is a mechanical device. George Hadley tries to control it, but he fails. In the end, it kills him and Lydia.
But you can find support for this conflict throughout the story. For instance, in the first scene, Lydia voices her fears and concern to George. She feels threatened by the room, and indeed the whole house. George wonders why she doesn't want to enjoy the convenience of having machines take over her chores, and she replies that she feels she's being usurped:
"I feel like I don't belong here. The house is wife and now mother and nursemaid."
The house is more efficient; she can't compete with it.
Later, George becomes convinced. They fantasy was becoming "too real." The room allows his kids to dwell too much "on one pattern." Ominous signs emerge, indicating the threat that the room poses: The fact that George can't turn off the lions; the bloody wallet; the bloody scarf; the screams.
2. Parents versus children
Once again, there is abundant support for this conflict, especially in scenes directly involving the room. The room is a threat, and the children are responsible for the behavior of the room. Throughout the story, the author drops hints that the children's Africa simulation includes attacks on their parents. The parents' possessions (the wallet and scarf) are found in the room with blood on them.
But the conflict is also evident in other parts of the story. For instance, the first time we encounter the children, the boy lies to his parents. "There is no Africa in the nursery." When the parents attempt to prove the opposite, they discover the scene has changed. The children are trying to trick their parents, and George wonders:
"We've given the children everything they wanted. Is this our reward -- secrecy, disobedience?"
Later, when George indicates that he is considering "[shutting] down the house," we see this interchange:
"I don't think you'd better consider it anymore, Father."
"I won't have any threats from my son!"
And when George finally makes his decision, we see Peter wish his father dead:
"Don't let them do it!" wailed Peter at the ceiling, as if he was talking to the house, the nursery. "Don't let Father kill everything." He turned to his father, "Oh, I hate you!....I wish you were dead!"
3. George Hadley's internal conflict: complacency versus recognition of danger
In the first scene, we see how George is intellectually and emotionally invested in his technology. If he feels the occasional qualm, he can rationalize it away:
"And again George Hadley filled with admiration for the mechanical genius who had conceived this room. A miracle of efficiency selling for an absurdly low price. Every home should have one. Oh, occasionally they frightened you with their clinical accuracy, they startled you, gave you a twinge, but most of the time what fun for everyone…"
But when he tries to reassure his wife, it is not without misgivings or doubt. He sees the bolted door "tremble as if something had jumped against it from the other side."
Subsequently, he is bothered by intrusive, disturbed thoughts about threatening imagery in the room, and he is confronted with direct evidence that something is working against him.
- He commands the lions to "go away," but they don't.
- He finds his wallet in the room -- damaged by lion tooth marks, and smeared with blood. Later, he finds a scarf of Lydia's -- also covered in blood.
Such experiences make George doubt the psychological safety of the technology. Maybe the fantasy is becoming "too real." Maybe the room allows his kids to dwell too much "on one pattern." He asks McClean if the lions could "become real." Could there be "a flaw in the machinery, a tampering or something?"
After his conversation with McClean, George finally seems to resolve his inner conflict. He announces that the "whole damn house dies as of here and now."