Person vs person is one of the seven main literary conflicts. It’s a conflict between two characters in a story.
In this article, we will use several movie and book examples to explore what this conflict is and how it’s used in storytelling.
What Is Person vs Person?
The person vs person conflict is a type of external conflict in literature.
It’s traditionally called man vs man conflict, but person vs person is a more inclusive term. You might also see it called character vs character because literary characters aren’t necessarily humans. We use these terms interchangeably.
There are seven types of literary conflicts:
- Person vs person
- Person vs society
- Person vs technology
- Person vs nature
- Person vs supernatural
- Person vs fate
- Person vs self
The first five conflicts are external conflicts. The last two are internal conflicts. Most stories have more than one type, and the different types of conflict work together to examine a theme or message.
Person vs person conflict occurs between two characters in a story.
These characters are typically the protagonist and antagonist, although the protagonist can experience conflict with secondary protagonists or other minor characters.
It’s a type of external conflict because it occurs between one character and an outside source. Often, it’s only one type of conflict present because it’s more minor in scope.
There’s often not enough external conflict to drive the plot, nor does it address character growth through an internal conflict.
It is common to pair character vs character conflicts with larger scale external conflicts, such as character vs society or character vs nature. These pairings drive the plot and explore big, heavy themes with a zoomed-in lens.
In other stories, the two characters in the man vs man conflict represent larger ideas or themes that are pitted against each other. This is especially true in good vs evil stories.
There’s also usually a person vs self conflict in character vs character stories. The main character must have some sort of character arc in order to overcome their conflict with the other character.
Person vs Person Example
We often think of character vs character conflicts as good guy vs bad guy but that’s not always the case.
For example, love stories between two characters are a type of person vs person conflict. Stories about enemies becoming friends are another example.
But hero vs villain stories are the easiest way to understand this external conflict. Think of the fairy tale Cinderella. The primary conflict is between Cinderella and her wicked stepmother.
Another example of a character vs character story is the fairy tale Beauty and the Beast.
The Beast isn’t truly the villain. Belle and the Beast are in direct conflict, but the resolution isn’t defeat. Instead, the Beast changes and the couple fall in love.
Person vs Person in Books
The best method for teaching person vs person conflict is through examples. Here are two examples from well-known pieces of literature.
Person vs Person Book Examples
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby is a great example of how protagonist vs antagonist conflicts work with other types of conflict. Jay Gatsby is madly in love with Daisy, but she is married to Tom Buchanan.
Gatsby shows off his newfound wealth to win Daisy back but Tom is possessive and abusive. He doesn’t truly care about Daisy, as he has a mistress, but he stakes a claim on his wife.
Gatsby and Tom are in direct conflict. But this is just a tool for social commentary.
The largest conflict is actually person vs society. Gatsby and Tom both represent the harmful aspects of wealth, self-centeredness, and the American Dream.
Another example of person vs person is in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. This children’s novel is a classic good vs evil story.
Aslan, the lion who created Narnia, is in conflict with the White Witch, the root of all evil in the land.
While there are other conflicts, such as character vs nature with the never ending magical winter, the character vs character conflict is the primary one. Like many magical stories, the plot represents good triumphing over evil.
Person vs Person in Movies
Movies lend themselves to person vs person conflicts because it’s an easy type of conflict to resolve quickly. Let’s look at a few famous movie examples of this conflict.
Person vs Person Movie Examples
Star Wars is another example of a good vs evil conflict that uses person vs person conflicts.
The primary person vs person conflict is between Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader. Luke represents the Light Side of the Force, while Darth Vader represents the Dark Side.
This conflict is one of many in the movie. Luke has a major internal conflict with himself (man vs self) and also with fate. There’s also a person vs society conflict with commentary about totalitarianism through the form of the Empire.
The Sound of Music has different types of character vs character conflicts.
Maria is a carefree nun assigned to care for the seven challenging von Trapp children. Colonel von Trapp is a staunch military man who treats his family like cadets.
Maria and von Trapp are in heavy conflict throughout the movie until they eventually fall in love, despite their differences. Maria has character vs character conflicts with most of the children. Liesl, the eldest child, also has a conflict with her father.
These interpersonal conflicts are set against a wider man vs society conflict with the rise of the Nazis in Austria.
Von Trapp also undergoes a major character vs self shift, as he learns to enjoy life and take a stand against the Nazi party.
Person vs Person: Final Thoughts
In all of these book and movie examples, we can see how person vs person conflicts are just one type of conflict within a story. They serve a purpose for a broader conflict or to explore heavy themes like good vs evil.