#11. Internal vs. external conflict: what’s troubling your main character?

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external vs internal conflict in literature

Image: iClipart---------External Conflict

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For all the students participating in this blog, today we’ll be learning the difference between internal and external conflict in a book. Internal conflict is what’s bugging the protagonist on the inside. External conflict is the fight that’s going on in the character’s world.

powerpoint lesson plan for teachers on literary concept of internal conflict in literature

Graphic: iClipart--------Internal Conflict

For example, in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Harry struggles with both internal and external conflicts:

  • His internal conflict: Why do I have to grow up without parents?
  • His external conflict: Voldemort wants the sorcerer’s stone, and I have to stop him.

If you still don’t understand internal and external conflict, even after that lovely and inspiring example, please click on some of the links I’ve provided. They should help.

Now for today’s challenge!

  1. Write a question about your protagonist’s conflict.
  2. Write an answer about the conflict in your classic novel.
  3. Make sure you use either the term “internal conflict” or the term “external conflict” in either your question or your answer.
  4. Use a quote from the book to prove you understand which type of conflict you’re dealing with.
  5. Don’t forget to give the name of your book and its author.

Need another example? How about a list? Here, look this over:–but be warned. There are Harry Potter SPOILERS in this post. If you haven’t read all of the Harry Potter books, READ NO FURTHER…

EXTERNAL CONFLICTS–these are flesh-and-blood battles that happen to a character’s physical person.

  • Harry fights off dementors as they try to suck the soul out of his godfather, Sirius Black.
  • Harry plays hard, trying to win at quidditch.
  • Harry fights off a dragon.
  • Harry casts spells against his archenemy, Voldemort.

INTERNAL CONFLICTS–these are battles within a character’s mind, fighting off unwanted emotions and changing through painful experiences.

  • Harry feels insecure around the Dursleys, because they favor his cousin Dudley over himself.
  • Harry feels jealous when he sees Dean kissing Ginny Weasley.
  • Harry worries that he won’t be able to defeat Voldemort when the time comes.
  • Harry believes he’s unworthy of the title of “Triwizard Champion” because his friend Cedric was killed during the tournament.
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25 responses »

  1. Im reading Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe
    Question: What is the conflict in your book?
    Answer: The conflict in my book is that he has been there so long that all of his supplies that he brought with him to shoar to help him is now wearing down or wasted or well spent. This will make it more difficult for him for him to be able to survive.

  2. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

    Question: In every book there is a protagonist,which has either or both internal and external conflict. What is troubling your character and what caused it?

    Answer: In the beginning what was bothering the protagonist was the arrogant Mr. Darcy. This would be internal conflict. He is rude and strikes Elizabeth as very condensending. As you dig deeper in the book you find that she has other feelings for him, other then hatred. So that is a troubling problem to.

    Quote: “I do not believe a word of it, my dear. If he had been so very agreeable he would have talked to Mrs. Long. But I can guess how it was; everybody says that he is ate up with pride, and I dare say he had heasrd somehow that Mrs. Long does not keep a carriage, and had come to the ball in a hack chaise.”

  3. I’m reading The Adventures of Sherlock Homes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

    Question:
    Conflict… what was that again? Explain that in your own words. Then, what is a character’s internal conflict? Pick any character. Compare the character’s internal conflict that you chose with a different character from a different story.

    Answer:
    Internal Conflict: Emotional feelings or contradictions within a person. Dr. Watson’s internal conflict is anxiety, just because Count Von Kramm is not this strange visitor’s real name; he’s feeling suspicious, although Holmes does not yet.
    Dr. Watson’s suspicions are like Hermoine, Ron, and Harry’s suspicions of Professor Snape in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, even though it is Professor Quirrel who is Voldemort.

  4. my book is Tarzan of the Apes by edgar rice burroughs

    Q: does this book have internal or external conflict and why do you think this?

    A:in my book there is both internal and external conflict because his external conflict is with his gorilla dad tublat hates tarzan and so tarzan ropes tublat around the neck and talk bad about him next to kala who likes tarzan and proteacts him and also internal because when he finds claytons home his dad he tries to read picture books and so the pictures gave him alot of thoughts about what they are

  5. Cannery Row by John Steinbeck
    Q.The character Frankie goes through some major problems in chapter ten. What internal conflict is the main cause of his problems.
    A. He wants to get his name out in the world and to meet people and be social with them, but he doesn’t know how to do that.
    “Now he was ready. He took a deep breath and opened the door.” This shows how hard he’s trying.

  6. Around the world in 80 days by Jules Verne

    Mr.Phileas Fogg struggles with both internal and external conflict`

    Internal Conflict: He feels that he needs to complete his journey so that he doesn’t look like a fool to all the people.

  7. A Christmas Carol By Charles Dickens

    Q:does you book have an internal and external problem with the protagonist? explain an internal and external problem about the protagonist.

    A: with Ebenezer Scrooge his internal problem is that the love of his live his wife has past away and he is depressed and so he is grumpy to happiness so he is mad that is Christmas.

    Ebenezer Scrooge’s external problem is that he is being taken back the the past,present,and future with the ghosts of Christmas past and he is being shown why its not good to me a mean.

  8. “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee.

    Q.What are the internal and external conflicts that the protagonist is currently dealing with.

    A.Internally, Scout is wondering why Atticus isn’t letting her ask Mr. Radley to come out. Externally, Jem, Dill, and her are trying to see Mr. Radley, or they continue to return to his home. And she’s trying not to get caught, so they won’t be in trouble with Atticus.

    “Hurry,” Jem whisperd, “we can’t last much longer. Dill punched my shoulder, and we lowered him to the ground.
    “What’d you see?”
    “Nothing. Curtains. There’s a little teeny light way off somewhere though.”
    “Let’s get away from here,” breathed Jem. “Let’s go ’round in back again…”

  9. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain

    Question) What internal feelings does Tom show towards other people? Why do you think he is like this?

    Answer) Toms aunt says, ” he’s my own dead sisters boy, poor thing, and I ain’t got the heart to lash him, somehow.” Tom tricks people into doing his work all of time. He likes to play people and doesn’t really have a heart. I believe he is like this because his mother died, most children who are raised by aunts and uncles don’t care as much.

  10. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte.
    Q: Explain what the external and internal conflicts of the protagonist and use a quote that shows that are they somehow connected to each other.
    A: The external conflict is Jane and Mr. Rochester do not see eye to eye and argue all the time. The internal conflict is that because her aunt was so abusive it scarred her and know she is very awkward in social skills and is not very self-confident. I think the external and internal conflicts are connected because of her aunt tormenting her and not helping her be secure with herself she is unsure how to carry her self in a conversation or while around new people. I came to this conclusion by this quote:” I am disposed to be gregarious communicative tonight,” he said, “and that is why i sent for you: the fire and chandelier were not suffucient company; nor would have Pilot been, for none of these can talk. Adele is a degree better, but still far below the mark; Mrs. Fairfax ditto; you, I am persuaded, can suit me if you will: you puzzled me the first time I invited you down here. I have almost forgotten you since: other ideas have driven yours from my head; but tonight I am resolved to be at ease; to dismiss what importunes, and recall what pleases. It would please me now to draw you out- to learn more of you- therefore speak.”
    “Speak,” he urged.
    “What about, sir?”
    “Whatever you like. I leave both the choice of subject and the manner of treating it entirely to yourself.”
    I sat and said nothing.
    “You are dumb, Miss Eyre.”

    • Mr. Rochester is really kind of rude, isn’t he? And it doesn’t help her insecurity at all…

      Hey, you really should note which page your quotes come from, because you may find it helpful later, during the test.

  11. 1. Emma wants to hook Mr. Elton up with Miss Harriet Smith. Is this internal conflict or external conflict? Explain your answer.
    2. I believe this is both internal and external conflict. Internally, she doesn’t want to fail to hook them up, because she wants to show Mr. Knightly that she was right all along. Externally, she’s struggling to make these two people like each other, against all odds.
    3. I did use the terms “external” and “internal” in both my quesiton and my answer.
    4. The best quote I could find was “Ah, Mr. Knightly, I wish you had the benefit of this; I think this would convince you. For once in your life you would be obliged to own yourself mistaken” because this quote really shows Emma’s internal conflict. The external conflict comes in when Emma finds that nobody–even the guy and girl involved–really wants Mr. Elton and Miss Smith to get together.
    5.My book is Emma by Jane Austen.

  12. I’m reading Othello by Julius Lester.

    Question: Describe what that problem your protagonist is facing and state weather it’s an internal or external conflict.

    Answer: It appears to me that Iago is being Jealous of Othello because, both Othello and Iago love Desdemona but, Desdemona only loves Othello and not Iago. I believe that this is external and internal because, the jealousy between Othello and Iago is internal. I also think that it is external because Iago is wanting to get rid of Othello which is an external conflict.

  13. Question/Statement: List the External and Internal conflicts of the protagonist, the father of the family. Then tell what you would do in his shoes.

    Answer: External:
    1. When he says: “The first thing we did on finding ourselves safe on terra firma, was to fall on our knees, and return thanks to the Supreme Being.” He is shipwrecked on an island with his family.
    2. He has a limited amount of supplies.
    3. He has no shelter for his family.

    Internal:
    1. He feels he has the responsibility to protect his family.
    2. He feels that he need to uplift his sons and teach them to look at the good in things.
    3. He wonders if they will ever get off the island.

    If I was the father of the family I would keep everyone busy so they would not get frightened. I would also protect my family with my life.

  14. My book is Island Of The Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell.
    Question:Why is Karana working so hard on the island and give her external and internal conflicts.
    Answer:Her external conflict is trying to survive on the island by herself.She wants to go to this island where her tribe is and that is her internal conflict.Karana says “Someday I will make a canoe and go out once more to look for the country that lay beyond the ocean”.

  15. The Red Pony by John Steinbeck

    Q. Quote a passage in your book that shows the internal conflict of your book.

    A.Jody looked quickly away,for he had heard about that lump. “What is the matter with him.”

    • Since i didn’t put some parts in quotation marks i need to redo it

      The Red Pony by John Steinbeck

      Q. Quote a passage in your book that shows the internal conflict of your book.

      A.”Jody looked quickly away, for he had heard about that lump. ‘What is the matter.'”

  16. Roots by Alex Haley
    Q. What external conflict does Kunta have with the toubob when he does something wrong?
    A. He has a problem with the toubob because when they beat him he gets this sense of rage and hatred towards the toubob. His conflict with them is their unkindness towards his people. They get beaten when they just step out of line.
    4. “The whip came crackling down across Kunta’s back as he pulled his shackle mate down to the ground, rage and hatred filled Kunta’s body as he stumbled back to his feet.”

  17. The Call of The Wild by Jack London

    Q: what is the external and internal conflicts in your book?
    A: The external conflict in my book right now is Buck was out hunting a bull moose on his own and after he had finally killed the moose he came back an hour later and he found wolves eating his kill so he fought them off 1 by 1, they were severly wounded, or killed.Then his wolf freind and the pack leader made freinds and hes part of the pack.
    Internal conflict: when buck saw others eating his kill all that was in his mind was to fight them back or to kill them.

  18. The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom

    Q: Explain the internal and external conflict about your character. What is he/she going through? It it affecting the family in any sort of way?

    A: The internal conflict that Corrie is going through is that she s trying to help the Jews get to a safe place without anyone finding out. Her feelings are raging with fear, anxiety, discomposure, and A LOT of stress. The external conflict is that she had to be in an environment that is covered with Germans, trying to take Jews away and close their shops. Her internal feelings are affecting her family by putting them in danger. But then again, they want to help her too. The internal and external conflict plays a big part in Corrie’s story.

  19. Where the Red Fern Grows. Wilson Rawls

    Q: What kind of conflict is you character dealing with Internal or External??

    A: My character is dealing with external conflict. I know this because the thing he is having trouble with is saving enough money to buy himself two dogs.

    “My dog-wanting became so bad I became so bad I began to lose weight and my food didn’t taste good anymore. Mama noticed this and had a talk with Papa.
    “You’re going to have to do something,” she said. “I never saw a boy grieve like that. It’s not right, not right at all.””

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