In the short story "War," who is the protagonist and who is the antagonist?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Oddly, Nobel Prize winning (1934) dramatist Luigi Parandello's short story "War" has no specifically designated protagonist or antagonist; instead all the characters who board the train at Fabriano are both protagonist and antagonist to themselves. Whether they argue for the futility of war and the senseless waste of life or the heroism of serving one's country in their human need for value, they seek some alleviation from their desperation, but no one gives this respite to them. 

With such a minimized setting, Parandello intensifies the focus upon the unimpressive characters, among whom some possess eyes that are "watery and motionless." When the heavy man who hides his missing teeth with his hand contradicts the sentiments of the others by declaring that he wears no mourning clothes for his dead son because he honorably served Italy in the war, dying satisfied with his life--“Our children do not belong to us, they belong to the Country”--,the heavy woman who has sat silently all the time, lost in the single fear of her only son's having been called to serve, raises her head and listens.

It seemed to her that she had stumbled into a world she had never dreamt of, a world so far unknown to her and she was so pleased to hear everyone congratulating that brave father who could so stoically speak of his child's death.

In a climactic moment, shaking herself from her brown study, she raises her head and asks, " your son really dead?" Ironically, then, the man's role changes from that of an antagonist to the others' sentimentality to that of a protagonist faced with the adversary of reality stripped of its heroics and illusions. Suddenly, this man of "watery, light gray eye" breaks into heart-wrenching, uncontrollable, distressing sobs.