What are examples of conflicts in Robert Louis Stevenson's The Black Arrow?

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There are numerous conflicts of various sorts throughout Robert Louis Stevenson's The Black Arrow. All of these are set against the backdrop of the Wars of the Roses, a series of civil wars fought between the rival royal houses of Lancaster and York over the right to occupy the throne in fifteenth-century England.

To a certain extent, the conflicts between characters throughout the book represent in microcosm those that took place in the Wars of the Roses themselves. For instance, much of the seemingly endless struggle between the houses of Lancaster and York revolved around personality issues rather than matters of lasting political or constitutional import. For the characters of The Black Arrow no less than the dramatis personae of the Wars of the Roses, the personal is very much the political.

But it isn't simply personality clashes that instigate conflict in the story. A common theme running throughout is the often significant gap between appearance and reality. The boy Matcham turns out to be the heiress Joanna; Sir Daniel Brackley, charged with the care of the protagonist Dick, is in reality the man responsible for the murder of his father; and the men of the Black Arrow, ostensibly outlaws, display a surprising sense of nobility as they assist Dick in his quest for justice.

Beneath the main plot line, with its lusty acts of derring-do, savage physical combat, subterfuge, double-dealing, and treachery, a deeper and yet more fascinating conflict abides. Throughout the story, we find that gender and class roles are often transgressed, subjecting the dominant hierarchies of the day to an all too brief, playful challenge.

Disguises abound; identities shift. As well as playing the part of Dutch uncle, Brackley dons the mantle of a leper in order to trap Dick and Joanna (who herself is disguised as a boy); Dick himself puts on a friar's habit as part of a daring mission to rescue Joanna. And so for that matter does Lawless, a member of the Black Arrow and thus regarded by society as little more than a common criminal.

As the book draws to a close, external conflicts are for the most part resolved. Final justice is meted out to the arch villain Brackley, and Dick and Joanna can now be married happily every after. Their betrothal symbolises, to a certain extent, the reassertion of traditional roles; the time for cross-dressing and disguises is well and truly over.

Yet not all is so neatly concluded, as we see in the fate of Ellis Duckworth, erstwhile leader of the Black Arrow. Overcome by remorse at having killed Brackley by an arrow in the back, he disbands his outlaw crew to join an altogether different fellowship of men, that of the monks at the abbey. A man who began the story in the role of a common outlaw has subsequently transformed himself into a noble of the spirit in his valiant attempts to thwart the vile machinations of Sir Daniel Brackley. Then, towards the end of the tale, he undergos an even more fundamental change as he embarks upon a life of contemplative piety. In doing so, he inadvertently draws attention to the fluidity of conflicting identities and their possible re-emergence, even in a society as rigidly stratified and hierarchical as that of fifteenth-century England.

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