In the Lake of the Woods is one of the most popular novels by Tim O’Brian. The author raises a number of important themes and problems in his novel, though he does not really impose his personal position on the audience. Instead, he suggests a reader to participate and take decisions on his/her own. In such a way, this book is really worth attention as a good opportunity to make judgments about problems discussed regardless the actual position of the author. At the same time, it should be pointed out that some themes of the novel are very disturbing and, in a way, they may be viewed as eternal problems. In this regard, the theme of war and its impact on the personality of a soldier and a human being at large seems to be particularly noteworthy. At any rate, this theme plays an important role in the book written by Tim O’Brien, though it may be a bit overshadowed by other personal problems the main character suffers from. Nevertheless, it is possible to estimate that the theme of war remains the backbone of the entire novel.
On analyzing the novel, it should be pointed out that, at first glance, the author basically focuses on the personal problems of the main characters and their relationships. Tim O’Brien concentrates readers’ attention on the disappearance of Kathy, the wife of the main character and through a series of flashbacks the author attempt to reconstruct the life story of the couple and each character in particular, paying a particular attention to the life of John Wade. Tim O’Brien depicts his life in details from the early childhood to his recent failures during the Senate elections and his present position, which rather resembles an attempt of escape than the life of a respectable person.
In actuality, John Wade is a 41 year old man who has suffered very difficult moments in his life, the last of which practically ruined his professional career, while the disappearance of his wife, Kathy Wade seems to ruin his personal life. In such a way, the main character of the novel gradually alienates from society and from the real world fleeing to the illusory world of his fantasies and chimers.
The more readers learn about the main character and his present position, the more they wonder how this, presumably good and honorable person, have failed in his life, his political career and how his wife has disappeared.
The latter question remains unanswered till the end of the novel, while concerning the failure of John Wade in his political career as well as his numerous personal problems, it is possible to find the answer in his past, especially in those days he spent inVietnam, being a soldier of theUSarmy and fighting with Vietnamese enemies.
Gradually, the author uncovers the war experience of the main character and reveals the extent to which the war affected his personality and, probably, influenced his psychology and post-war lifestyle. In this respect, it is worth mentioning the fact that John Wane had serious problems with his father in his childhood, which was a good ground for the negative impact of the war on his personality. In fact, even before the war he was predisposed to the violence, while the active participation in the military operations against Vietnamese people practically broke down his positive, humanistic inclinations and, instead, evoked the evil part of his personality. In such a situation, theMy Laimassacre may be viewed as a natural result of the horrors and sufferings that American soldiers and ordinary Vietnamese people faced there. Obviously, such a situation was particularly unbearable for John Wade who, being abused in his childhood, could not keep from a kind of revenge on anyone whom he could get, beat and simply kill.
Even the year after John Wade service inVietnam, a new person that arrived in the country could not fully control his/her own actions and behave normally: “I arrived in-country a year after John Wade, in 1969, and walked exactly the ground he walked”¦ It was the wickedness that soaks into your blood and slowly heats up and begins to boil.
Frustration, partly. Rage, partly. The enemy was invisible. They were ghosts (O’Brien 199).
Naturally, in such a situation, a person can hardly maintain a human face. At any rate, John Wade failed too and the My Lai massacre was just a horrible episode in his military service inVietnam. At the same time, it does not necessarily mean that it is John Wade that was an evil monster who was ready to commit any crime or even to kill his own wife. In actuality, Tim O’Brien skillfully depicts the extent to which the war can be destructive for a human being, especially if his psychology has been already broken by psychological trauma in his childhood. Being in a desperate, extreme situation, John Wade cannot fully control himself. Even after the end of the war, when many years have passed, he still cannot fully understand what he is actually doing and the mysterious disappearance of his wife occurred just in one of the moments when he could not fully control himself. In fact, his strange behavior was not the result of his failure in his political career but rather the result of the war, which apparently defined all his post-war life.
In this respect, it should be said that even his decision to make a political career was determined by the war. During the war, John Wade has learned that there is only one thing that is worth fighting for, it is the power. Being a witness of the permanent struggle between life and death inVietnam, John Wade wants to get the power since he believes that this is the best way to survive in this cruel world. Obviously, he does not really believe in the existence of good in this world, instead, he is convinced that “there was no pity in the world” (O’Brien 49) and this conviction directly derives from his war experience, which made him disillusioned. In such a context, even his belief in God acquires some strange forms since “he hoped there was a God, so he could kill him” (O’Brien 47).
Thus, it is possible to conclude that the war produced a destructive impact on the personality of the main character, John Wade. In fact, after the war he has lost his faith in good and, instead, his entire life transformed into a struggle between strong and weak, where there remained no room for real human feelings and actions.