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Man VS Nature



Nature itself opposes the protagonist's quest

In James Cameron's Armageddon (1998), a gigantic meteor threatens to destroy the earth.

In Jan de Bont's Twister (1996), the main character is a storm chaser who has to save people from getting killed by a deadly tornado in Oklahoma.

In Herman Melville's Moby Dick (1851), Captain Ahab's main quest is to get revenge on the great white whale that took his leg.

Spielberg's Jaws (1975) is a reworking of the slasher genre where the monster/killer is a shark.

Man VS Man

Revenge stories


A person or group of people oppose the protagonist

Alexandre Dumas' The Count of Monte Cristo (1844) follows a man whose life was taken away from him when he was sent to jail who then seeks revenge on the man who sent him there.

The entirety of Inigo Montoya's arc in Rob Reiner's The Princess Bride (1987) revolves around him seeking the man who killed his father and getting his revenge.

In Agatha Christie's And Then They Were None (1939), a group of strangers are lured onto an island by a mysterious person and are then killed one by one.

In Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code (2003), the protagonist must solves a series of complex puzzles and riddles to stop the machinations of an evil conspirator.

Man VS God


Cosmic Horror

A deity opposes the protagonist's quest

In H.P. Lovecraft's tales of horror as well as in a large portion of the subgenre known as cosmic horror, the protagonists are faced with evil deities known as Old/Elder Gods with power beyond human understanding.

The two deities pictured here are Dagon (left) and Cthulhu (right).

In most religious myths, normal humans are forced to deal with the whims of Gods such as Zeus, Thor, Cayote, or Loki.

Man VS Society


Absurdist Fiction

Absurdist fiction comments on the lack of meaning of our lives/existence.

The protagonist's society opposes their quest

In George Orwell's 1984 (1949), the protagonist's society has been taken over by a totalitarian and authoritarian government that spies on the main character's every move and thoughts.

In Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale (1985), an authoritarian government enforces laws that turn women into breeding machines with little to no agency or free will.

In Franz Kafka's The Trial (1925), the protagonist is arrested for an unknown offense and is confronted to a faceless and dehumanizing bureaucracy.

In Albert Camus' The Stranger (1942), the protagonist is put on trial for murder because he is judged not to have grieved the loss of his mother sufficiently.

Man VS Self



The protagonist is their own antagonist

In Shakespeare's Hamlet (1599), the eponymous protagonist's quest for revenge is hindered by his inability to make decisions.

In J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye (1951), the protagonist's quest for happiness is repeatedly hindered by his inability to act as he always finds excuses for not acting, the main one being that everyone but him is "a phony".

Aronofsky's Requiem for a Dream (2000) presents the dire consequences of a variety of addictions, namely alcohol, medication, TV, sex, money, and fame.

In Irvine Welsh's Trainspotting (1993), the protagonist is hindered on his quest to reintegrate society by a crippling heroin addiction.

Man VS No God

The absence of a God hinders the protagonist's quest

In the "Balance" arc of The Adventure Zone (2014-2017), created by the McElroy brothers, Merle Highchurch, played by Clint McElroy, must deal with the fact that Pan, the God from whom he gets his divine powers, has been killed.

In S8E8 of the Simpsons, "Hurricane Neddy" (1996), Ned Flanders' fate is tested as God repeatedly refuses to answer his prayers as his life spins out of control.

Man VS Technology

The advancement of technology opposes the protagonist's quest

In Harlan Ellison's "I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream" (1967), the story follows four human characters who are tortured by a global supercomputer who keeps them alive to see them suffer longer.

In James Cameron's Terminator (1984), John and Sarah Connor must face a robot sent from the future by Skynet to prevent them from leading the human's army in the future.

In The Matrix (1999), directed by Lana and Lilly Wachowski, Neo (Keanu Reeves), the protagonist, lives in a fake reality created by a super intelligent AI with an army of robots.

Man VS Reality

Reality itself opposes the protagonist's quest

In H.P. Lovecraft's "From Beyond" (1934), the narrator meets a man who created a machine that allows to see beyond the veil of human perception, revealing an infinitely more complex and horrifying reality.

In Peter Weir's The Truman Show (1998), the main character, played by Jim Carrey, progressively realizes that he exists within a TV studio and is the star of a complex reality show.

Man VS Author

The author opposes the protagonist's quest

Lost in the Funhouse (1968) by John Barth is, ostensibly, the story of a young man who goes on a trip to a funhouse with his family. However, as the story progresses, John Barth starts discussing narrative conventions and theory. This discussion turns the narrative from objective to speculative where the reader does not know what truly happens to the main character but is rather presented with a variety of possible scenarios, all of which Barthe defends with different narrative conventions. Ultimately, the protagonist ends up stuck in the funhouse, unable to exit the literal building, as well as the confines of narrative theory.

In Chuck Jones's animated short "Duck Amuck" (1953), Daffy Duck quickly realizes that his animator (who is revealed to be Bugs Bunny) is screwing with him and his reality.