Indeed, whether one is reading or telling a fictional or nonfictional story, without conflict, such a story will not be worth reading or relating. To get a better understanding of this topic, I would like to start by defining two key words in the topic — ‘conflict’ and ‘stories.’
The Oxford Advanced Learners’ dictionary gives several definitions of the word ‘conflict.’ One of these definitions describes the word as “a situation in which people, groups or countries are involved in a serious disagreement or argument.” A second definition states it is “a violent situation or period of fighting between two countries” and gives a third one as “a situation in which there are opposing ideas, opinions, feelings or wishes.” The same dictionary also gives several definitions of the word ‘stories.’ One of these is that they are “descriptions of events and people that the writer or speaker has invented in order to entertain people.” It gives another definition as “accounts often spoken of what happened to somebody or how something happened” and gives a third definition as “accounts of past events or how something has developed.” A final definition is that ‘stories’ are “reports in a newspaper, magazine or news broadcast etc.” In the light of the above definitions of these key words, therefore, we shall be looking at different incidents or stories to support my position on the place of conflict in stories.
Beginning from the nonfictional, or real-life perspective, it is evident most or all interesting stories we read or tell, today, contain one conflict or the other. Take the story of the Rwandan genocide, for instance. Two of the major ethnic groups in that country – the Hutus and the Tutsis, were engaged in tribal conflict after independence. This grew into genocide in 1994 where extremist Hutu officials, the larger group, urged civilians to kill their Tutsi and moderate Hutu neighbours. This led to a conflict in which over eight hundred thousand Tutsis and minor Hutus were slaughtered. Another three million out of the population of eight million lost their homes to destructive mobs. It is doubtful if people would want to read or talk about this issue today without this element of conflict in it.
Another example is that of Martin Luther King, Jr., who was born in the United States of America in 1929 – a time when racism was high and black people were considered inferior to the Whites and were, subsequently, denied certain privileges in the society. King faced many conflicts in his life as he was severally attacked and jailed for his civil right agitations and beliefs. He was one of those who organized the massive march on Washington, D.C for Civil Rights where he delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. He was assassinated in 1968. Again, it is obvious his story would not be worth reading or telling today if these conflicts did not occur.
In the area of conflict of ideas, the story of Galileo Galilee quickly comes to mind. I am sure his story would not have been worth reading or recounting today if he did not challenge the existing belief of his time that presented the Earth as the centre of the universe. Galileo, even with the threat of death hanging over him, explained that the sun was the centre of the universe.
Further, the story of Malala Yousafzai is one full of cultural and religious conflict. Born in July 1997 in Pakistan, she was enrolled in school at a tender age only for the Taliban to take control of their town – Swat Valley, and ban watching of television, playing music and, wait for this, the girl child attending school. In 2002, she spoke openly against the Taliban of behalf of girls and became a target. In October, that same year, a marked gunman boarded her school bus and asked specifically for her before shooting her on the left side of her head! She was rushed to a hospital in the United Kingdom where she survived after months of surgery. She has gone ahead to win the Nobel Prize for Peace and earn her place in history as the youngest laureate ever. Yes, her story is worth reading or relating because of the conflict in it.
A classic case of conflict of political ideology occurred in 1986 when the then editor-in-chief of the Newswatch magazine – Dele Giwa – was killed via a parcel bomb delivered to his doorstep. As unfortunate and gory as the incident was, it was one of the prices Nigeria had to pay for the free press the country is enjoying today. But for this incident, his story would not have been worth reading or telling.
Another case worth mentioning is that of the French Revolution. By 1789, the French still clung to a social system or old order (ancien régime) that divided the country into three social classes or estates. The First Estate was made up of the clergy; the Second Estate was made up of the nobility while the Third Estate comprised the vast majority of the population. This order was challenged by unrest on April 28, 1789, which exploded at a Paris wallpaper factory over a rumour that spread that the factory owner was planning to cut wages even though bread prices were soaring. Enraged workers vandalized the owner’s home. Minor as this incident may seem, it was the harbinger of more grievous agitations that led to the French Revolution in which King Louis XVI and his wife, Marie Antoinette, were executed with the guillotine. Reforms that led France into becoming a republic and a democratic nation followed. I doubt if this story would be worth reading or telling without its conflicts.
Why is the story of World War 2 worth reading or telling today? You guessed right – the conflict in it. In 1933, Adolf Hitler said: “Give me ten years and you will not recognize Germany.” True to his words, by 1945, Germany lay in ruins along with parts of Poland, Japan, China, the defunct Soviet Union and other countries. This is because even though Hitler was appointed chancellor in 1933 through legal means under the Weimer constitution, he became a dictator within a year turning Germany into a one-party state. He built up the German military in defiance of the treaty that ended World War 1 and, in 1936, he sent troops into the ‘demilitarized’ Rhineland bordering France in a further violation of a treaty.
While these moves made him popular with many at home, Western democracies denounced his moves but adopted the policy of appeasement or giving in to the demands of an aggressor in order to keep the peace in dealing with him. He later boasted after turning Germany into a totalitarian state that the German master race would dominate Europe for a thousand years and set up the machinery to actualize this plunging the entire world into a conflict in which over fifty million people died around the world.
From a fictional perspective, it is doubtful if William Shakespeare’s classic play “Romeo and Juliet” would be worth reading or telling centuries after it was written if it did not contain the conflict in which the two main characters committed suicide due to the refusal of their families to accept their wish to be joined in holy matrimony. Many fictional stories have continued to generate excellent reviews due to the conflicts different writers infuse into them.
Fortunately for humanity, these conflicts have helped us make the necessary adjustments now and again at personal, group and national levels. Hopefully, the elusive dream of global peace can be achieved someday if individuals, groups and world leaders put valuable lessons learnt from history into practice in their different countries and among the comity of nations.
If that is not done, more conflicts will follow and, guess what? Future generations will have more stories worth reading or telling – stories, perhaps, that will be even more interesting!