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All six main characters together represent the protagonist of the book, as they struggle to survive after the atomic bomb is dropped on their city. All six are devastated to varying degrees by damage done to their bodies, family members killed, property destroyed, and shock to their emotions. Together with all the survivors of Hiroshima, the protagonists continue for the rest of their lives to struggle against the antagonist of the book, which is the bomb and its aftereffects.
The antagonist is the atomic bomb itself, which causes so much destruction, pain, and loss for the main characters as well as the entire city of Hiroshima. Although it is the American leadership that decides to drop the bomb, the main characters and most in the city accept that their suffering is an unfortunate consequence of war, and the fate they must endure. The author adds no judgment of his own to the charactersí interpretation of events, and therefore, the U.S. is not represented as the antagonist of the book.
The climax of the book is reached a few days after the bomb has hit, when the main characters are still in crisis as to whether they will live or die. Yet as the book is a factual account of a disaster and how people survived it, it could be argued that most of the book is in fact the climax. Only the first chapter, when the main charactersí everyday lives are described, and the last chapter, when years have passed since the bomb, are not part of this extended climax.
There are six outcomes to the book, one for each of the main characters. Some are tragic; others are inspirational. All point to the enormous impact that the atomic bomb exposure had on their family lives, careers, and outlook on life. Rev. Tanimoto slips into a mundane existence, Dr. Fujii dies from gas poisoning and his family is split over his estate, Miss Sasaki becomes an active and courageous nun, Father Kleinsorge succumbs to radiation-induced illnesses after a lifetime of service to the Japanese people, Dr. Sasaki distances himself from his Hiroshima experience and prospers as a doctor, and Mrs. Nakamura raises her children to be happy adults and perseveres despite her own malaise.