A Sound of Thunder

by Ray Bradbury

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Who are the protagonist and antagonist in "A Sound of Thunder"?

Quick answer:

Eckels is the protagonist and Time Safari, Inc. is the antagonist in "A Sound of Thunder."

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One could make the argument that Eckels is the protagonist and Time Safari, Inc. is the antagonist of Bradbury's celebrated short story "A Sound of Thunder." Eckels is certainly the protagonist of the story because the action revolves around his character and he makes several key decisions that significantly impact the plot. Eckels initiates the action of the story by visiting Time Safari and purchasing a ticket to travel back in time to hunt a Tyrannosaurus Rex. Eckels's character not only drives the plot but his decisions influence the other characters in the story. Eckels makes the mistake of losing his composure when he comes face-to-face with the terrifying Tyrannosaurus Rex and accidentally steps on a butterfly when he runs off the Path. Eckels and the other characters suffer the consequences of his actions when they discover that he has unintentionally altered the course of human history.
Time Safari can be considered the antagonist of the story because the company is directly responsible for creating the main conflict and altering human history. The company is in the risky business of time travel and jeopardizes civilization with every trip they take. Travis even admits that time travel is a dangerous endeavor by telling Eckels,
"We don't belong here in the Past. The government doesn't like us here. We have to pay big graft to keep our franchise. A Time Machine is finicky business."
If Time Safari did not exist, Eckels would not have been able to travel into the past, where he unintentionally altered the course of human history by stepping on a butterfly. The company's risky business creates the main conflict of the story and is ultimately responsible for the tragic outcome of Eckels's trip.
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An argument can be made that the environment is the protagonist in Bradbury's "A Sound of Thunder," and Eckels is the antagonist.

Eckels is the antagonist because his action of crushing the butterfly interferes with the delicate balance of the non-technological world of nature. This arrangement of protagonist/antagonist fits with the narratives of Ray Bradbury, who felt that technology threatened the natural order of things. 

That Eckels is a somewhat "difficult" person is apparent early in the narrative of Bradbury's short story. For instance, he asks the official at the desk, "Does this safari guarantee that I come back alive?" And, when the clerk tells him that if anything happens to him, the company is not responsible, Eckels angrily counters, "Trying to scare me?" Later, when the time machine takes them to pre-historic times so that Eckels can shoot a Tyrannosaurus Rex, he is told not to shoot any animal that the guides do not okay, nor to step off the anti-gravity path. "Why?" asks Eckels defiantly.

So, the guides try to explain that they do not belong in this pre-historic environment, and they cannot upset the balance of nature:

"With a stamp of your foot, you annihilate first one then a dozen, then a thousand, a million, a billion possible mice!"
"So they're dead," said Eckels, "So what?"

Eckels remains antagonistic even after he steps on the butterfly and alters the world. When he returns to TIME SAFARI,INC. and it now reads TYME SEFARI INC., and he learns of other changes, Eckels remains disputatious as he is accused of violating his contract with the company. When his attitude does not succeed, he pleads that the time machine return and right his mistake, still not accepting that he has caused the drastic alteration of the present because of his non-compliant behavior. Clearly, then, Eckels is the antagonist in "A Sound of Thunder" and nature the protagonist.

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The protagonist for most of the story is Eckels.  The story itself is focused on his introduction to the idea of going back in time to hunt dinosaurs.  The reader learns about the time machine and the rules of time travel alongside Eckels.  The audience even feels a bit sorry for him when it's clear that he is super scared.  He knows that he has gotten himself into a situation that he is under prepared for.  Chances are most readers can empathize with that feeling.  

The antagonist is a bit harder. I've always thought that Eckels makes a great antagonist, too. His attitude, right from the start, is flippant and cavalier. It's clear that he is not taking Travis's warnings seriously enough.  

"So they're dead," said Eckels. "So what?"

I also view him as the antagonist, because it's his fearful freak out that put everybody else in danger. He loses his head so completely that he leaves the floating path of time traveling awesomeness and steps on a butterfly. He's the reason that all of the present is completely different when everybody returns. He's the guy that ruined the present/future.  

If you are not allowed to list Eckels as both, list time as the antagonist. That's simple enough to defend. Any change done in the past by time traveling humans is severely punished. That sounds like something a bad guy antagonist would do -- punish the heroes.  

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In "A Sound of Thunder", who is the antagonist?

There are two levels of narrative at which an antagonist may be identified; the broader conflict taking place due to the use of the time machine, and the specific conflict taking place between the hunters and the tyrannosaur.

In the specific conflict, it's pretty clear that the tyrannosaur is the antagonist. By definition, an antagonist is a figure of opposition or threat against which the protagonists must fight, either literally or figuratively, and so the tyrannosaur is a pretty simple and straightforward fulfillment of this role. 

In the broader conflict, Eckels is probably the antagonist; while his questions are initially innocent, it becomes clear by the end of the story that his incompetence and cowardice are a direct threat not only to their lives, but to the nature of time and history as they understand it. Ultimately, Eckels is personally responsible for the changes in the timeline, which are portrayed as objectively bad, and result in his being shot by Travis. This execution has a sense of justice and revenge to it, because the hunters are now presumably stuck in a worse timeline thanks to Eckel's antagonism.

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