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Ambiguity In In The Lake Of The Woods Essay, Research Paper

Ambiguity in In the Lake of the Woods

We all perform vanishing tricks, effacing history, locking up our lives and slipping day by day into the shadows (301). Reality is relative to the observer; beings so, history is what one makes it. The main character in In the Lake of the Woods is a man named John Wade; the reader knows he is a lawyer, a politician and a Vietnam War vet. He and his wife, Kathy, are vacationing in a cabin by a lake to get over a terrible loss in an election after some information about his past in the war surfaced. Some how, his wife disappears. Later, Wade runs away, having nothing to stay around for; his wife mysteriously vanishes, he is suspected for murder and his political career is over. The book is written to look as a documentary of these events, containing chapters of history, evidence, and hypothesizes about Kathy s whereabouts. Also, the book has no ending, attempting to mimic life; there is no neat and sugary The End . All this is a ploy to make this fictitious novel more real and convincing in order to show that facts are only lies that one believes; or that nothing is a fact. Throughout In the Lake of the Woods, Tim O Brien is making that point by including information on the Vietnam War, including the author s comments and Wade s behavior.

Tim O Brien incorporates certain things about the war that prove his case that facts depend on the observer. In a war, commands are often delayed, ignored or not delivered at all, causing massive problems and result in mistakes. The Vietnam War is no different from any other. In this book we are given the example of the My Lai Massacre. On March 16, 1968 Charlie Company, 11th Brigade, was given orders by Lt. William Calley to destroy the village of My Lai. Calley believed the people of My Lai were all Viet Cong and/or Viet Cong supporters; to him, that was the truth. When William Calley was court-martialed, in his testimony he said:

Q: What were they firing at?

A: At the enemy, sir.

Q: Did you see them (the enemy)?

A: I wasn t discriminating.

Q: what do you mean you weren t discriminating?

A: I didn t discriminate between individuals in the village, sir.

They were all the enemy, they were all to be destroyed, sir.


Another man believes that babies were going to attack him and that was why he killed them. Some men have even blocked out the memory of it all together. Even though Wade doesn t exist, he forced himself to believe he was involved. This shows that the event changes from person to person, proving O Brien s theory.

Hollingsworth 2

O Brien also includes his own comments in the footers explaining to the reader that there are no facts or endings. After comparing his own experience in the war to Wade s he comments, I find myself wondering if these old tattered memories weren t lifted from someone else s life, or from a piece of fiction I once read or once heard about. My own war does not belong to me (298). O Brien is not even sure if his past is what he really experienced, but none the less, to him he lived through the bombings and the deaths and he saw certain unthinkable things and is only now doubting his recollections. O Brien also says that the story of John Wade seems more true to him then his own memories. He is showing the reader that ambiguity is part of everyone s life; no one will ever know what s true and what s make-believe. He also warns the reader there are no answers, Kathy Wade is forever missing, and if you require solutions, you will have to look beyond these pages. Or read a different book (30).

There is also the subject of John Wade. Since Wade was about nine, he s studied magic. When he was about 14, after his father s death, he would practice magic in front of a mirror. In front of the mirror everything was possible, even happiness (65) What he saw in the mirror, he considered true and believed it. Wade is also known as Sorcerer. When he is Sorcerer, he can do anything or be anyone he wants; and there s always a new Sorcerer to be. In the war, Wade killed one of his own men and an innocent old Vietnamese man. The mirrors weren t working for him anymore, they couldn t invert the images of the old man with his hoe or of PFC Weatherby smiling down before Wade shot him. It drove him insane and he couldn t operate, knowing what he did. The trick was to reinvent himself (269). And so he did, when he went back to the U.S. he was a new Sorcerer; he had erased his own past, literally cutting himself out of existence. Wade has been many things, but he s always been a loser. That was the one thing he couldn t escape or obliterate. He was a failure at being a son; his father would make fun of him and then later killed himself. He was a coward in the war; he was afraid to admit what he had done. He was a bad husband; he didn t appreciate Kathy so she had an affair. He also made her get an abortion when a baby would get in the way of politics. Finally, he was a bad politician; his first intentions were about doing good things but when it became about winning, his past came back and he lost by a crushing landslide. Yet, he convinced himself his father loved him, he was a good man during the war, his wife was utterly in love with him, and that he cared about the people voting for him. It was all in his imagination but to him it was real, even when others could prove otherwise.

The readers will never know what happened to John and Kathy. If they died, just ran away, or swallowed each other up like two snakes on a trail . Though, none of that matters; it s only a side note to the untrue facts of existence that Tim O Brien is trying to teach us. Truth is an odd word. What really is true? And can you ever be sure? Of course, what s true to one person can be an absolute joke to another. As humans, we can only have faith in what we know to be real; only try to believe, even if it means being oblivious to another s facts. For all one knows, life itself might be a dream; one huge fantasy we create for our self. Maybe everything one knows is just some vision he or she creates to protect him or herself from the immorality he or she sees or does. O Brien isn t going as far to say life is a dream but he is saying life isn t true and is full of unanswered questions. All secrets lead to the dark, and beyond there is only maybe (301).

O Brien, Tim. In the Lake of the Woods. New York City:

Penguin Group, 1994.

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