In the Lake of the Woods

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In the Lake of the Woods Chapter 25 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
This chapter is another collection of evidence about John. The first piece of evidence is a quote from Vincent Pearson, comparing John to the three monkeys who “see no evil,” “hear no evil,” and “speak no evil”—Vincent’s point is that John is claiming to be so innocent that he must be guilty.
We’ve been forced to examine the differences between appearance and reality—John, for instance, appears to be a happy, charismatic politician, even though he’s really a disturbed war vet. Tony’s point is a good one: the appearance of cleanness is almost a guarantee of some dirtiness beneath the surface.
Themes
War, Memory, and Trauma Theme Icon
Evil, Human Nature, and Freedom Theme Icon
Ruth Rasmussen insists that John didn’t kill Kathy, because he loved her—just like Claude loves Ruth. Lux insists that he doesn’t make guesses. Colonel William V. Wilson says that he wishes “this thing” was fiction. Soldiers in Vietnam, such as Gregory T. Olson, Tommy L. Moss, and Allen J. Boyce, describe their mood going into My Lai as revengeful. Famous warriors of the past, such as General William Sherman (the Civil War general who ordered his army of Union soldiers to burn the city of Atlanta to the ground) describe how the Sioux tribe must be exterminated. The author George Sand notes that evil people never see themselves as evil.
As we go on, Ruth’s praise and sympathy for Kathy and John never wavers. Toward the end of the book, though, the narrator seems more sympathetic to John as well. We see this in the quotations about revenge—it seems that soldiers who commit war crimes are often under the impression that they’re avenging their friends’ deaths. While this doesn’t excuse their behavior (as the narrator openly admits), it does help to humanize their actions.
Themes
Vietnam, Authorship, Interpretation Theme Icon
War, Memory, and Trauma Theme Icon
Evil, Human Nature, and Freedom Theme Icon
Love and Relationships Theme Icon
Patricia says that Kathy tried “too hard” with John, while Patricia herself never gave John a chance. Bethany Kee notes that Kathy always wanted to travel to Verona, Italy though Kathy’s only source of information about the place was Romeo and Juliet. Patience H.C. Mason, author of a book on PTSD, notes that in American society, it is considered normal to “overfunction” to hide one’s partner’s problems from other people.
Kathy’s love for John is much more mysterious than John’s feelings for Kathy—we can’t quite tell if Kathy loves John for his mystery or for his appearance of goodness, or both. Part of her attraction to John seems to be based on a suicidal or nihilistic streak—hence her obsession with Verona, Italy, which is, after all, the place where Romeo and Juliet die for each other.
Themes
Vietnam, Authorship, Interpretation Theme Icon
War, Memory, and Trauma Theme Icon
Evil, Human Nature, and Freedom Theme Icon
Soldiers, both from Vietnam and from other eras, explain how they viewed the enemy as subhuman, and fought because they wanted revenge for their own friends’ deaths. Paul Meadlo describes killing villagers to take revenge for his friends, while British infantrymen from the Revolutionary War describe Americans as “savages.”
This is another side in the debate about the morality of war crimes. It doesn’t excuse the soldiers for what they did, but it suggests that they’re motivated by the same kinds of things that motivate people every day—friendship, anger, jealousy, etc. And it suggests that the soldiers of Vietnam—seen as villains by many—may not have been all that different than the American soldiers of the Revolutionary War who everyone today sees as heroes.
Themes
Vietnam, Authorship, Interpretation Theme Icon
War, Memory, and Trauma Theme Icon
Evil, Human Nature, and Freedom Theme Icon
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Richard Thinbill is quoted talking about the flies. In another piece of evidence, from a court-martial, he tries to remember Sorcerer’s real name, but can’t, noting that Sorcerer giggled after the Vietnamese massacres. Patricia admits that Kathy wasn’t perfect, considering the affair she had with “that dentist,” who she refuses to name.
In this section, the characters identify other characters, albeit imperfectly. Thinbill doesn’t identify John because he doesn’t know John’s real name. Pat refuses to name Harmon because she wants to protect her sister even as she admits that here sister has faults. Neither character’s reasoning matters much—in the end, we already know that John is Sorcerer, and we already know that Harmon is Kathy’s former lover.
Themes
Vietnam, Authorship, Interpretation Theme Icon
War, Memory, and Trauma Theme Icon
Evil, Human Nature, and Freedom Theme Icon
Love and Relationships Theme Icon
The Boston Herald reports that a man named Robert W. T’Souzas was shot and killed, nearly twenty year after he was accused of murdering two Vietnamese children at My Lai. T’Souzas was never convicted, since he testified that he killed the children because they were in pain and already dying. The article also notes that Lieutenant William Calley was the only man every convicted in the My Lai massacre.
The contrast between Calley’s legal punishment and T’Souzas’s rough life suggests that the soldiers at My Lai were punished for their actions, even if they never served prison time—their guilt and self-hatred haunted them for the rest of their lives.
Themes
Vietnam, Authorship, Interpretation Theme Icon
War, Memory, and Trauma Theme Icon
Evil, Human Nature, and Freedom Theme Icon
There is a list of John’s “Box of Tricks.” It includes invisible ink, a coin trick, and a copy of The Peers Commission Report. Tony Carbo says that John ran out of magic—when the story about his behavior in Vietnam broke, Minnesota wasn’t forgiving at all. Patricia recalls that Kathy had her own problems. There follows a series of quotes about politicians’ wives, such at Pat Nixon. Though they were highly skilled at affecting an appearance of normality and happiness, they secretly hated being married to politicians. Lester David, author of a book on Pat Nixon, suggests that Richard Nixon lied to his family as well as to America about his role in Watergate.
The list of John’s tricks ends with the Peers Report, the compilation of investigations into American soldiers’ actions at My Lai. This is a stark way of illustrating Tony’s point—John “ran out” of magic. What follows is a study of the banal “magic” that politicians practice on their constituents and their wives, and the performances their wives give in return. Kathy’s pain and anguish derived in no small part from the fact of being a politician’s wife, not only from John himself.
Themes
Vietnam, Authorship, Interpretation Theme Icon
War, Memory, and Trauma Theme Icon
Evil, Human Nature, and Freedom Theme Icon
Appearance, the Unknowable, and Magic Theme Icon
There follows a series of quotes about John’s multiple names. Vincent Pearson insists that John’s nickname, “Sorcerer,” proves that he was a deceptive man who didn’t even know who he was. Eleanor notes that John always had nicknames for himself—some of which, like “Jiggling John” and “Little Merlin,” John’s father gave him. Karl S. Guthke, author of a biography of the author B. Traven, opines that Traven adopted a pseudonym because he wanted to lose his old identity.
John’s nicknames prove his love for magic, but also the lack of control he exercises over his own life. He’s come to enjoy nicknames and false identities, precisely because his father bullied him when he was a child. One can interpret this to mean that John is a victim, or that he’s responsible for his own lies. The truth, as usual in this novel, lies somewhere in between.
Themes
Vietnam, Authorship, Interpretation Theme Icon
War, Memory, and Trauma Theme Icon
Evil, Human Nature, and Freedom Theme Icon
The final two quotes in the chapter are from Patricia and Eleanor. Patricia urges the investigators to give up, because “No one will ever know” what happened. Eleanor says that the investigators should stop, since she’s said everything she knows.
We turn to a new side of the narrator’s investigation. Throughout the novel, we’ve taken it for granted that it’s worthwhile to investigate Kathy’s disappearance. Here, we’re asked—“why is the narrator investigating it at all?”
Themes
Vietnam, Authorship, Interpretation Theme Icon
In a footnote corresponding to Eleanor’s final comment, the narrator asks, rhetorically, why anybody should care about murderers like Lizzie Borden or Lee Harvey Oswald. Perhaps, he suggests, mysteries are themselves more fascinating than any solution could be. The narrator has looked over countless notes and records and never solved the mystery of Kathy’s disappearance. Even though he’ll never solve the mystery, he continues to look—the mystery itself is what motivates him.
Here, the narrator provides an answer to the question of why he’s investigating Kathy’s disappearance. He’s more interested in the mystery and magic of her vanishing than with any single solution to the problem. In this way, he’s not so different from Kathy herself—Kathy, too, was more interested in the mystery of John’s personality than in any one explanation for how he got this way.
Themes
Vietnam, Authorship, Interpretation Theme Icon
War, Memory, and Trauma Theme Icon