What is External Conflict? Definition, Examples of External Conflict in Literature

External conflict definition: External conflict is a type of conflict in which the character struggles with an outside force.

What is External Conflict in Literature?

External conflict is one in which the character struggles with a force outside of himself. The forces the character may be trying to overcome can be against other characters, societal forces, or nature.

External Conflict Example

In J. K. Rowling’s series Harry Potter, there is a prominent external conflict that the protagonist, Harry Potter, must conquer. Throughout the books, he is attempting to defeat his antagonist, Lord Voldemort. Because this conflict is with a force outside of Harry Potter (another person), it would be considered the external conflict character vs. character.

Different Types of External Conflict

There are three different types of external conflict:

Character vs. Character: Character vs. character conflict is when two characters are engaged in a struggle against each other.

  • An example of this type of conflict is Simba versus Scar in Disney’s The Lion King. Simba is attempting to regain control of his kingdom that has been overtaken by Scar.

Character vs. Society: Character vs. society conflict is when the character is at odds with societal institutions that contradict with his beliefs such as the government or religious institution.

  • An example of this type of conflict is in Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. In this novel, the protagonist, Guy Montag, is in conflict with a society that rejects education while he supports it.

Character vs. Nature: Character vs. nature is a type of external conflict in which the character struggles against the forces of nature.

  • An example of character vs. nature is in the movie Twister in which the characters face a struggle with a tornado. In this movie, they are attempting to preserve their lives while chasing tornadoes.

Examples of External Conflict in Literature

In William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, the feud between the two families, Capulets and Montagues, is an external conflict. The struggle is between two groups of people and serves as the primary obstacle the lovers, Romeo and Juliet, attempt to overcome in order to be together. Because the struggle is against other characters, this would be character vs. character external conflict.

In Suzanne Collins’ dystopian novel The Hunger Games, the protagonist, Katniss Everdeen, is faced with an external conflict. She is struggling against a corrupt society that commits such evil acts as sending children out to murder each other in an annual game called The Hunger Games. Through her determination and strong will, she makes great steps in overcoming them. Because she is in a struggle against her government this conflict would be considered character vs. society.

The Function of External Conflict

External conflicts are important because stories revolve around conflicts. It adds interest and excitement for the readers as they follow the characters through their obstacles. Readers become emotionally invested in the characters’ struggles that make them want to continue reading the piece through to the resolution.

Summary: What Does External Conflict Mean?

Define external conflict in literature: An external conflict is one in which the character is struggling against an outside force such as another character, society or natural force.

Final Example:

In the television series The Walking Dead, the characters struggle against the zombies in order to stay alive. This conflict would be considered an external conflict because the characters are at odds with other characters.