The Misfits

by James Howe

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What are three major conflicts in The Misfits?

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Internal conflicts in The Misfits by James Howe include Bobby's quest for identity apart from the names he is called, Addie's inability to define her high ideals, Joe's issues with sexual identity, Skeezie's split between external appearance and internal reality, and Mr. Kellerman's feelings of loss.

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The Misfits is primarily concerned with the theme of children's rights as civil rights (according to the US Constitution) and human rights. As one of the teachers is determined to block students from exercising their constitutional right to free speech, a central conflict arises between Ms. Wyman and Addie over the Pledge of Allegiance.

More generally, as the Gang of Five understands their identity as distinct from the other students, there is a conflict between these "misfits" and those they perceive as overly conformist.

As the school election process advances, the No-Name party develops its platform. They identify certain types of hostile and abusive behavior as a primary issue. This calls attention to an important conflict between the bullies and those they target.

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We should define "major conflicts" in terms of story development first, before delving into the specifics of The Misfits.

A plot conflict, despite the name, does not necessarily have to be a fight, confrontation or argument, and it definitely doesn't have to take place between two people, or even between people at all. Basically, a conflict is anything divisive, perhaps requiring that one have an opinion, or make a choice. Conflicts are not necessarily "bad" - after all, if we didn't have to make any choices or take any sides, we'd all be pretty much the same - but conflicts do tend to force characters to grow and act, whether or not they're ready for it.

One conflict, which takes place on a societal and even a biological level, is growing up. This is a pretty classic theme for "coming-of-age" style stories such as this one, in which characters are forging their identities and finding examples that inspire or repulse them (such as Bobby's desire not to be like Mr. Kellerman). Many of these conflicts are born directly from the fact that these people are seventh graders being overseen by adults; consider that there's nothing stopping an adult from creating a Freedom Party if they wish to, but Addie has to ask permission. Many of these conflicts are born from the children attempting to express themselves in more adult-like and individualized ways, but being restrained by adults and their peers for a variety of reasons.

Another, more specific conflict, is the one between Bobby and Mr. Kellerman. This is, in a way, another facet of the "growing up" conflict; for example, much of Mr. Kellerman's dislike of Bobby stems merely from Bobby's age. Later, when we learn that Kellerman is a lonely and lost person who "doesn't know who to listen to anymore", it seems that it is in fact Kellerman who is the child; he failed to develop an independent identity, and his anger is really just frustration at being trapped in a sort of eternal childhood. On a more day-to-day level, though, we could identify this as a conflict between Kellerman's bad mood and Bobby's need to keep his job.

The first conflict is more of a general theme for the book, and the second is a specific interaction between two characters. The third conflict I've chosen is a conflict between ideas; specifically, it is Joe's feminine behaviors. Joe wore dresses when he was young, and in seventh grade he paints one of his nails and dyes his hair; this and other behaviors inspires some students to call him a faggot. While the name-calling is itself a conflict, it is born from a deeper and broader conflict; a conflict between what society establishes as "male appearance and behavior" and what Joe is doing. People are unhappy with Joe because he has chosen to visibly and blatantly reject the behaviors that society has deemed appropriate for him, and so he is being "punished" for it with the name-calling. This is slightly different from the standard "growing up" conflicts, because the person Joe is growing up to be is fundamentally an outcast.

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What are the internal conflicts in The Misfits?

Internal conflicts stand at the very heart of James Howe's novel The Misfits. Before we talk about these conflicts, let's be sure we know what an internal conflict actually is. An internal conflict occurs when a character struggles with their own identity, ideas, beliefs, and actions. The character feels pulled in multiple directions and must use the conflict to discover who they really are as a person.

In The Misfits, Bobby Goodspeed experiences internal conflict as he tries to get past the names he is called by other students and embrace his own identity. Bobby must also deal with internal conflict when he prepares to give his speech for the No-Name Party. He is nervous even though he feels strongly about what he has to say, and he is even more nervous when he finds out that his dad will be in the audience. His dad assures Bobby that he will not embarrass his son, but that isn't what Bobby is worried about. “It's not you embarrassing me,” he tells his father, “It's me embarrassing you.” Bobby lacks self-confidence, but he finds it as he stands up to speak, knowing that what he says is something his classmates really need to hear.

The other members of the Gang of Five also face internal conflicts. Addie has many high ideals about freedom and equality, but they are vague, and she struggles to define them and to define herself. Joe struggles with sexual identity. Skeezie presents the external image of a hooligan with his spiky hair and leather, but in reality he is far from it.

Internal conflict is not limited to young people. Bobby's boss, Mr. Kellerman, is also conflicted, especially when his mother dies. He has spent years caring for her, and now he feels lost, with no one to listen to and no identity of his own. Bobby tells Mr. Kellerman to listen to himself.

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