The Things They Carried

by: Tim O’Brien

Antagonist

Main ideas Antagonist

Rather than a character who opposes the protagonist Tim, the antagonist in this novel is the entirety of the Vietnam War. Throughout the stories, the war’s relentlessness and violence churns on, ruining Tim’s attempts to make meaning of the experience or come to terms with what he is going through. The war is a character in this novel, always throwing new, horrible plot twists into the story, which upend the characters’ friendships, sense of morality, and lives. The war lacks a conscience and a consciousness, so rather than acting deliberately to stop Tim’s attempt to understand it, it just is. Tim repeatedly loses to the war, most notably when he thinks he killed an innocent Vietnamese man who posed no threat. Tim is only able to conquer the war after it has ended, time has passed, and he is able to synthesize what he experienced by writing about his dead friends. By the end of the book, the war still has power, but it has been vanquished by Tim, if not by all of the men.