Conflict: A confrontation or struggle between opposing characters or forces in the plot of a narrative work, from which the action emanates and around which it revolves.
Conflict is usually broken down into three major categories: physical, social, and internal (or psychological) conflict. Physical conflict generally involves the “elemental” clash between a character and nature or the physical world. Social conflict takes place between humans competing or struggling against one another or against that overarching entity called society. Opposing forces are typically represented or embodied by the protagonist and the antagonist, but conflict need not involve two distinct people, entities, or institutions, as demonstrated by the third type of conflict. Internal, or psychological, conflict involves the inner divisions or turmoil of a single character. Conflicts of this sort may result from the character’s attempt to decide between multiple alternatives for action or between opposing attitudes or beliefs. Some critics have spoken of a fourth kind of conflict — metaphysical conflict — involving the clash between a human character and fate or some type of deity. In general, literary works employ more than one type of conflict in order to enrich the plot and avoid oversimplification.
EXAMPLE: In Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick (1851), Captain Ahab’s psychological conflict is played out in his metaphysical conflict with God or fate, his physical conflict with the whale, and his social conflict with an endangered crew.