The most important conflict in this novel is the internal conflict that Mattie has to face with death. As the events in the novel clearly demonstrate, humans are very frail creatures who can die very quickly indeed. Mattie has to realise, along with other characters, her own mortality, and she has to come to terms with the fact that she will die one day. She does this through encountering the deaths of those around her, and particularly those she loves and cares for, such as her grandfather. Note how the following quote describes death:
There could be no running from this. Hiding from death was not like hiding from Mother when she wanted me to scrub kettles, or ignoring Silas when he begged for food. I was the only one left.
Death is personified as a pursuer who, Mattie realises, will eventually track her down and claim her for his own, whatever she does. With this quote, Mattie begins to come to terms with her own mortality. However, this would be a rather depressing book if it just featured death, and the author is careful to intertwine life into its pages. In fact, as Mattie realises, death and life are so inextricably linked that even when death is present, there is opportunity for new life. This is evidenced when the death of her grandfather is juxtaposed to the entry of a new life into her family through the orphan, Nell.