Conflict in The Giver

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  • 0:00 Types of Conflict
  • 1:39 Conflict in ''The Giver''
  • 4:43 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Katherine Garner

Katie teaches middle school English/Language Arts and has a master's degree in Secondary English Education

In this lesson, you will learn about the four basic types of conflict often discussed in fiction and how each type is used in Lois Lowry's 1993 young adult novel 'The Giver.'

Types of Conflict

In real life, we get into conflicts every day. Even things as small as not wanting to get out of bed in the morning or being unable to decide what to wear are examples of conflicts. Conflict in our own lives is usually unwelcome, but often we learn and grow from these obstacles. Similarly, conflict is necessary in fiction because it drives the plot, makes it interesting, and challenges the characters to learn and grow.

There are generally four different types of conflict that authors use and that are commonly discussed when analyzing literature:

  • Person vs. Person is a conflict in which one character has any type of conflict with another; it could be a physical fight or a disagreement over an issue.
  • Person vs. Nature is a conflict in which one character must face a force of nature or a challenge presented by the natural world, such as confronting an adverse weather event or climbing a treacherous mountain.
  • Person vs. Society is a conflict in which the main character finds him or herself to be in opposition to society's norms, values, or expectations. The character is usually isolated and is the only one who sees the problem with the status quo, or the way things are in the society. He or she either ends up escaping or defeating the forces of the society or is subdued by the power of the society.
  • Person vs. Self is a conflict in which a character's struggles are internal; the character's chief problem has to do with him or herself, such as feeling guilt, regret, or being unable to make a decision.

Conflict in The Giver

All four of these conflicts are present in The Giver, but some are a bigger part of the central idea than others. For example, Jonas experiences a Person vs. Person conflict when he sees children in his community playing at shooting each other, and he gets upset and asks Asher to make them stop. Asher, who is training to be the Assistant Recreation Director, is annoyed with Jonas, thinking he is trying to boss them around. What he doesn't realize is that Jonas is disturbed by this kind of play because he alone has the memory of war.

Jonas also experiences a Person vs. Nature conflict when, at the end of the novel, he is escaping from the community with Gabriel and has to deal with weather that his community had always been able to control: cold, rain, and finally, a snow storm. He has to protect himself and Gabriel against these elements as he runs away.

Though Person vs. Person and Person vs. Nature are certainly present in the novel, Person vs. Society and Person vs. Self are much more significant to the novel's central idea and are at the root of the other, less significant conflicts. The entire novel is premised, or based, on a Person vs. Society conflict, as Jonas becomes The Receiver at age twelve and learns grim secrets about his community, which on the surface seems perfect. Only he and the old Giver know all the terrible things that have to happen in order to keep their community in perfect order, and this isolates Jonas from his friends and family. He is opposed to the way the community disposes of sick babies, the elderly, and anyone else who does not comply with expectations. Jonas realizes that he values individuality and personal choice over the community's value of Sameness, and he wants to reject it and run away from it.

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