Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Conflict: Man vs. Society

The new shoes made a huge difference in dance class. It was amazing. Not that I'm on the way to the Met, but I felt a lot more in control.

After my last writing post on conflict, an Alert Reader reminded me that I'd left out one of the categories of conflict, Man vs. Society. I'd included that one in my mental composition of the post, but somehow forgot it when it came time to write it, even though that's the major kind of conflict in the book I was working on.

Man vs. Society conflict involves the hero facing off against the institutions and organizations of society, rather than against individuals. These are often stories about revolutions or resistance movements. Or it could be crime spree/criminal on the run stories. You also see this in outcast stories, where it could be seen as Society vs. Man -- the hero isn't trying to fight society, but society is opposed to him.

There is some blurring and overlap with the Man vs. Man conflict, since society is made up of people, but in a Man vs. Society story, the conflict is more about the structure than about the people in the structure. It's not personal, though as the story progresses it may become personal as one of the members of the society structure develops a personal animosity for the hero, or vice versa.

So, going back to my usual Star Wars example, I think the conflict in the first movie is mostly Man vs. Society. The enemy is the Empire. Luke barely knows the name of Darth Vader, doesn't know his role within the Empire, and I'm not even sure he connects the dude in the black armor with the name. Luke is opposed to the Empire but doesn't have any personal animosity toward the Third Stormtrooper on the Left, other than the fact that the Stormtrooper works for the Empire and is shooting at him. Meanwhile, the Stormtroopers and Darth Vader are opposed to the rebels, in general, and in the first film, they don't know or care who that kid is, other than that he's working with the rebels. It's only in the later films where Luke and Darth Vader become directly opposed and it becomes more of a Man vs. Man conflict.

You may see Man vs. Society conflict in crime spree stories like Thelma and Louise or Bonnie and Clyde, where the main characters are fighting against and running from the law and society in general, though toward the end in some of those stories the animosity between the criminals and the lawmen may become more personal as the lawmen are focused on bringing in those specific criminals and the criminals are playing cat-and-mouse games targeting those specific lawmen.

On a lighter note, something like Office Space could also be considered Man vs. Society. Society is personified by the creepy boss, but the real "enemy" is the corporate world, in general. A different boss might change the nature of the torture inflicted by the corporate world, but the corporate world would still be stifling the hero.

War stories might be considered Society vs. Society, but since you've got to have a protagonist somewhere, there may be a character or group of characters who represent their society, and they're fighting against an enemy Society. So we get Easy Company in Band of Brothers or the squad in Saving Private Ryan as our "Men" and then they're up against the German military in general, with no direct personal conflict between any particular individuals.

I think next time I may tackle Man vs. the Supernatural/god in more detail, since that's one where I think my English teachers missed the boat.

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