in the novel, Our Mutual Friend, Which characters are in conflict? What type of conflicts are they? Are these conflicts resolved? why or why not?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The last novel of Charles Dickens, Our Mutual Friend, whose title is darkly ironic, expresses the author's disillusionment in human nature, but is, nonetheless, a well-composed and interesting work that express with typical Dickensian sardonic humor the themes of class prejudice, with the appropriately named Veneerings and the Lammies, and the predatory nature of man with the also appropriately named character Bradley Headstone.

Here are conflicts:

John Harmon vs. George Radfoot [external conflict], John Harmon vs. Bella Wilfer [external], John Harmon vs. Boffin [external, but pretended]

Of course, in a literary work of length such as is Our Mutual Friend, there are several subplots along with the main plot. But, the action centers around the protagonist John Harmon, who does not want to enter into a socially-arranged marriage. Oh his homeward voyage from South Africa, once ashore in London, Harmon is drugged, robbed of his money and clothing, and thrown into the Thames for dead by George Radfoot, a fellow passenger on the ship. Revived by the cold water of the river, Harmon swims to shore. In the meantime, Radfoot is killed himself and tossed into the river where Gaffer Hexam finds him and drags him onto shore, handing the body over to the police. Disguising himself as Julius Handford, Harmon identifies the body as that of John Harmon. Later, with a new alias, that of John Rokesmith, he seeks employment as a secretary for Noddy Boffin, a servant of his father who has inherited the Harmon fortune. Ironically, his betrothed, Bella Wilfer, has come to live with Boffin, and Rokesmith falls in love with her; however, she rejects his marriage proposal because she seeks a wealthy husband. Eventually, Bella's desire for money is overcome by her natural affections after Boffin turns Rokesmith out of his home as she realizes she really loves him and they are married.

Noddy Boffin vs. Silas Wagg and Mr. Venus, [external conflict and internal with Mr. Venus] Noddy Boffin vs. Bella Wilfer [fabricated external, internal for Bella]

After Nicodemus (Noddy) Boffin inherits the Harmon fortune, he hires Silas Wagg, a ballad-monger and peddler, to read to him as he is illiterate. But, Wagg is a blackguard, who pries into the details of Boffin's inheritance and discovers another will which leaves the elder Harmon's fortune to the British Crown. He tries to blackmail Boffin, but Boffin has in his possession a third will. Wagg is foiled in his dastardly plot after Mr. Venus has a turn of conscience and reveals Wagg's plot. Wagg is tossed into a nearby garbage cart, and Mr. Venus wins the love of Pleasant Riderhood.

As the guardian of Bella Wilfer, Boffin tries to provide a comfortable life for her, but after his wife learns Harmon's true identity, he promises Harmon to not reveal his identity and to act in a miserly fashion in order to teach Bella the evils of greed. After he fires Harmon/Rokesmith, Bella learns that love and spiritual and ethical values are more important. So, he reveals the third will and hands over the fortune to John Harmon whom Bella happily marries.

Eugene Wrayburn vs. Bradley Headstone [external conflict] 

Eugene Wrayburn, the indolent barrister who works for Mortimer Lightwood, a solicitor who works for Boffin, falls in love with Lizzie Hexam and is assaulted by his rival, Bradley Headstone, a crazed and pompous schoolmaster, who pursues Lizzie. 

Lizzie Hexam vs. Eugene Wrayburn [external] [Lizzie has internal conflicts]

At first, Lizzie rejects Wrayburn, but after he is injured, she nurses him back to health and eventually marries him, having grown to love him.

Bradley Headstone vs. Rogue Riderhood [external conflict]

When Riderhood learns that Headstone has disguised himself as Gaffer Hexam's rival, Rogue attempts to blackmail Headstone, believing Wrayburn dead. But, Headstone fights him, and they both die.

Gaffer Hexam vs. Rogue Riderhood [external conflict]

The two rivermen are rivals; after Gaffer dies accidentally, Rogue slanders him by accusing him of having murdered John Harmon.

The Veneerings vs. the Lammies [external conflict] 

These families are part of Dickens's satire of society.  The class prejudices of society are represented by the Veneerings who patronize the Lammies, each family believing that the other possesses a fortune, but neither do.

In the end, of course, all the conflicts are resolved. Some end by death, others by awareness or reform of the character. Dickens's characteristic mysteries about characters are also all revealed. For instance, John Harmon's true identity is revealed as is his reason for dissembling: he wished to anonymously observe Bella Wilfer in order to discern her true character, but, unfortunately, the sailor with whom he exchanged clothes was killed and thrown into the Thames. The avaricious marriage plots of the Veneerings and the Lammies are foiled as is the nefarious plot of Silas Wegg. However, Dickens places his darker perspective on one subplot untypical of the writings of his younger years: The demise of self-made Bradley Headstone and the rescue of Eugene Wrayburn, an idler, is a disillusioned moral judgment that is one that an earlier Dickens would not have constructed.

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Our Mutual Friend

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