The term “anti-hero” fits Wayne Ogden to a T, although it’s not a term you would think to apply to a World War II veteran. Wayne’s war experiences were no Normandy Beach; instead, he had a lucrative sideline in the black market and ran a stable of prostitutes in Rome. Naturally, peacetime in Wichita, Kansas, pales in comparison. He has returned to his pre-war job at Collins Aircraft, which actually isn’t so different from his wartime experience – he procures women and drugs for his employer, Everett Collins, nominally running a department but in truth, at Collins’s beck and call and hated by all other employees as a result. He has another enemy as well – an anonymous letter writer who taunts him with ill-written missives about his wartime activities and threatens his wife and prosperity.
What makes Wayne an anti-hero (besides the aforementioned activities) is that he just doesn’t care about this threat. Yes, he wants to get the letter writer off his back, but he could care less about Collins, his job, and his pregnant wife. This doesn’t make him a nihilist; instead, he represents another aspect of the veteran who discovers that war has either changed or amplified something in his nature. Phillips most ably captures a certain postwar experience: not that of the returning hero, but that of the restless man who finds that everyday life with its responsibilities and norms are not for him.