Conflict in Stories
Complications usually arise after a writer introduces the main point in a story. These complications are usually the result of conflicts. There are three kinds of conflict within a story (Trimmer and Jennings 4). The first kind of conflict is conflict among the characters. The second kind of conflict is conflict between a character and his or her environment. The third kind of conflict is conflict among the thoughts, needs, or emotions of a single character. After conflict arises, this is a moment of crisis or perhaps better known as the climax of the story. This usually marks the end of development to any other major action in the story (Trimmer and Jennings 5). The focus at this point is on the conflict in hopes of untangling or resolving it.
The first kind of conflict is conflict among characters. This kind of conflict is present in John Updike’s “A&P” and Willa Cathers “Pauls Case.” Sammy, the main character in “A&P,” wants to impress some town girls12a and Lengel, the store manager, wants to humiliate them. Because of this conflict, Sammy makes a decision to quit his job in an effort to become a hero to the girls. Lengel realizes this is a hasty decision and tells Sammy, “youll9e feel this for the rest of your life”(1140). However, Sammy feels “once you begin a gesture, its fatal not to go through with it”(1140). Updike writes, “I[Sammy] fe[el] how hard the world [is] going to be to me hereafter”(1141). Sammy realizes he has made a mistake. Paul in “Pauls Case” is in conflict with his father and cannot live up to his expectations. His father constantly holds a young man, who is a business clerk, up to him as a role model. According to Cather, “it [is] his fathers deepest hope that he would pattern [the business clerk]”(84). However, Paul despises the thought. He does not have any interest in being a common businessperson. Instead, his interest is in arts and theater. However, his father does not encourage these interests. In fact, he bans him from the theater where he works as an usher. According to Cather, “this takes away his bone”(87). Paul no longer has a place to escape into his “fantasy” world.
The second kind of conflict is conflict between a character and his or her environment. This kind of conflict is evident in John Updikes “A&P,” as well as,13 Willa Cathers “Pauls Case.” In “A&P,” Sammy disregards the rules of the supermarket in an attempt to be a hero. Despite the fact that the girls were inappropriately dressed for a grocery store, Sammy tells the manager, “you9e did not have to embarrass themI quit”(1140). Paul in “Pauls Case” is in total conflict with his environment. He is dissatisfied with his home and school. According to Cather, “Paul finds the schoolroom repulsive; the bare floors and naked walls”(85). He describes his room as “his ugly sleeping chamber”(82). Cather writes that when he has to leave the theater and return home, he experiences “the hopeless feeling of sinking back forever into the ugliness and commonness”(82).
The third kind of conflict is conflict among the thoughts, needs, and emotions of a single character. Again, this conflict is evident in the two stories previously mentioned. Sammy in “A&P” tolls20a with the idea of whether to take up for the girls or respect the rules of his environment. He wants to be a hero in the eyes of the girls12a but feels he must finish what he starts. However, he makes a rash decision from reacting to the situation instead of thinking things through. After he hastily quits his job and exits the grocery store, the girls he tries to impress is6a gone. Sammy wonders in his mind if he is a fool or a hero. According to Updike, “my[Sammy] stomach kind of fell”(1141). Perhaps he is a fool. Paul in “Pauls Case” is in constant conflict with his thoughts, needs, and emotions. He is so unhappy, fearful, and depressed that he prefers to withdraw into a “fantasy” world to live. According to Cather, “It is at the theaterwhere Paul really liv[es]; the rest [is] but a sleep and a forgetting”(85). Paul is on an emotional roller coaster and does not appear to know how to stop it. In fact, he withdraws so far from society and enters a fantasy world that he chooses not to accept the real world. Eventually, he chooses to end his life and jumps in front of a train.
All three kinds of conflict are present in “Pauls Case” and “A&P.” Both Sammy and Paul have conflict with other characters, conflict with their environment, and inner conflict of their thoughts and emotions. The different kinds of conflicts once presented in these stories definitely add richness to the stories and make them more interesting. In addition, conflict in a story helps the reader untangle the web that a writer weaves.