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Tim O’Brien, the author and a Vietnam Veteran, is the protagonist in this novel. Throughout the book he reflects on his experiences in an effort to bring about a sense of redemption.
In this man versus himself conflict, O’Brien is also the antagonist. He struggles with his own feelings of guilt, hatred and cowardice. He inwardly loathes himself for having reported to the draft, and labors to understand why he lives through the war while so many around him died.
The inner conflict reaches its peak when O’Brien returns with his daughter to the field where Kiowa died. He submerges his body in the muck as a form of baptism, symbolizing a new beginning. As he buries Kiowa’s sandals in the muck, he is symbolically unloading the grief and resentment he has carried over the years.
With the resolution of conflict, O’Brien stops fixating on what kind of man he might have become if he had not been drawn into the war. He also comes to understand the role of stories in shaping his view of the past, communicating truth, and paying homage to fallen comrades.