In literature conflict is either internal (caused within the character), or external. Out of the external conflicts there are four distinct types that serve as catalysts which help the plot move forward in the story. Conflicts are obstacles that the main character must endure in order to achieve a final goal and meet a purpose in the story. Hence, the character will be in conflict:
- versus another character (character vs. man)
- versus nature (for example, the story "To Build a Fire")
- versus society (as a whole)
- versus the cosmos (God, circumstances, fate, the inevitable)
When the conflict is internal, then the character's main conflict is caused by his or her own tragic flaws.
The short stories "The Test", by Theodore Thomas and "The Storyteller", by Saki treat two different conflicts that occur to different young men. The shared commonality, however, is that the male main characters enter involuntarily into very uncomfortable situations. As a result of their characters' falling prey to a circumstance over which they have very little control, both Thomas and Saki allow their main characters to search for an instant solution that may help ease their situations. Unfortunately for Thomas's character, Robert Proctor, there is no solution to his conflict. However, the bachelor in Saki's "The Storyteller" fares much better. Respectively, Saki and Thomas treat the conflict of man versus circumstance (cosmic), and man versus society in their stories. Both of their main characters are unable to make any choices and, instead, fall into a situation without notice.
The main conflict in "The Storyteller" is that a bachelor man in a train cart suddenly has to share his small space with three children and their aunt, who cannot control their rowdy behavior. Since the children's boredom is producing the conflict of the story, Saki created the bachelor's telling of a story of his (the bachelor's) own creation to control the children; this is done quite effectively and the bachelor is able.
In "The Test", the main conflict occurs when the main character awakes from a hypnotic session where he vividly pictures a terrible car crash caused by him, and which involves his mother. As the man awakes, he realizes that he was put in this state as part of the driver's testing regulation to mold the minds of future drivers and, supposedly, make them more aware of the dangers of bad driving. However, the unsuspecting man does not realize that his "dream" would immediately label him a mentally-ill man, for which he is immediately taken to a psychiatric ward.
In "The Test" Robert Proctor has no way to defend himself. He is a victim of "the system", which has created a measuring tool to define insanity or safety "their" way. The individual has no business in Proctor's society and the main conflict cannot be resolved. Hence, he does not have any control over his fate.