Discussing the conflict in the story for a character analysis.

by Dr Davis on June 5, 2008

A strong character analysis will:

  1. identify the type of character it is dealing with. 
  2. describe the character.
  3. discuss the conflict in the story, particularly in regards to the character’s place in it.

Often the characters are described in relation to the conflict within the story.

Conflict can be many things:

External –
  • snow-white-and-queen1man vs. man: This is the protagonist versus the antagonist. Snow White versus the Wicked Queen.
  • man vs. machine: This is when the machine is the enemy. Many robot-centric novels have this issue. (This is sometimes considered a subset of man vs. man.)
  • man vs. nature: Robinson Crusoe on the island. Hansel and Gretel lost in the forest.
  • man vs. animal: Captain Ahab versus the white whale in Moby Dick. The wolf in “The Three Little Pigs.”   –Usually the animal is a predator and the man has become prey for some reason. It could be humorous, though, the man is trying to catch the dog, who runs away and has the main character chasing him all over creation. (This is sometimes considered a subset of man vs. nature.)the-witch-shows-sleeping-beauty-the-spinning-wheel
  • man vs. fate or destiny: Sleeping Beauty can’t help pricking her finger. A man who has been late several times (due to circumstances beyond his control) gets in a traffic jam and is an hour late to work and gets fired. The fact that it has happened several times and is not his fault is the crucial point.
  • man vs. society: This is when a character battles societal norms. Winston Smith in 1984. Huck in The Adventures of Huckleberrry Finn.
Internal –
  • man vs. himself: This is when the character has an ethical dilemma, stealing to feed his family or watch them starve. Lie to the government and save the people in the basement or tell the truth and have them taken away.   This is the cartoon equivalent of the devil and the angel on either shoulder.renoir devil/angel
  • man vs. his mind: This is the character with internal problems that are not ethical, but mental. An example, as was pointed out in the comments, is the character with schizophrenia or one who is bipolar. How does the character deal with his/her limitations? What do they have to overcome? How do they overcome it? Is it harder or easier to overcome something that is a part of the character than it is to overcome something that is outside of the character? Thanks to commenter Kenneth for the additional aspect I had left out.

Other sources on this and related topics:
How to Write a Character Analysis: Introduction
How to Write a Character Analysis: Body Paragraphs
How to Write a Character Analysis: Titles
How to Write a Character Analysis: Conclusion
Questions for Literary Analysis: Theme
Questions for Literary Analysis: Setting
Questions for Literary Analysis: Point of View

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Unit 10.2: Reading list. – Kiera Bennett
02.28.17 at 2:02 pm

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Kenneth 07.18.09 at 6:14 pm

How about the conflict of man vs his mind? Schizophrenia–The movie A Beautiful Mind; obessive-compulsive disorder–The movie As Good as it Gets, manic-depression–Kay Jamison, author, (book title flees me). etc.

2 Jacob 11.09.09 at 8:07 am

This website is going to help me with my project ;D

3 Honeybun 08.27.10 at 9:31 am

This si really interesting and beificial. But, I think it would be more helpfull to add an example or two of how one can use these points in his essay…? Which to focus on?

Thanks ^_^

4 Dr Davis 08.27.10 at 8:13 pm

I would focus on whichever points are actually relevant to the work you are writing about.

If you are writing about A Beautiful Mind then writing about man v. his mind is a good idea. If you are writing about The Matrix it might work or it might not, depending on how you approach the movie.

If you are writing about The Matrix you would NOT write about man v. animal or man v. nature. That’s because those aren’t in there.

I can give you guidance, but you have to write the essay.

5 Matt 09.20.10 at 7:11 pm

Dr. Davis,
I am writting a paper on character analysis of the short story “Everyting that rises must converge” by Flannery O’Connor. I am trying not to focus on the racism, but instead on the fact that the main character has grown apart from his mother due to his education level and his socialization, but he throws all of this away when he rushes to her aid. Do you have any advice?

6 Vincent 11.09.11 at 7:15 pm

I have been analyzing Amanda Wingfied from The Glass Managerie. I was wondering if I could analyze both man vs. man with Amanda vs. Tom and man vs. soceity with Amanda vs. Society?

7 James 12.06.12 at 8:05 pm

Thank you so much for this website!
I had to write my literary analysis all in one night because it turns out that it had to be a character analysis, even though i had already completed a perspective analysis 3 weeks before the paper was due, i had no idea that it had to be a character analysis. So I just wanted to say thank you with all my heart!

8 Franck 02.21.15 at 11:14 am

Hello could I get any help here?
I am writing an essay on Conflict analysis and thematic study in Sefi ATTA’s “Everything Good Will Come”…
I would like any one here to help me with some literary devices on conflict analysis mainly…

9 Georgia 06.13.17 at 1:13 am

I really like how in depth your description is and feel it’s really helpful. One small issue I’ve got is your constant use of the word ‘man’. I feel that use of the word is quite outdated now and there are gender neutral alternatives.

10 Jordyn cox 08.08.17 at 7:54 pm

I am writing an essay about conflict in the novel Flash Burnout by L.K. Madigan and cant seem figure out if the conflict in the novel is external or internal. Could you give me some examples on how to tell the difference.

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