In the Lake of the Woods

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Lizzie Borden Character Analysis

Infamous “murderess” of the late 19th century who was tried and acquitted of killing her parents with an axe. The debate over whether or not Lizzie Borden was guilty of her crime continues to be a subject of interest for historians and conspiracy theorists, a fact that is itself highly interesting to the narrator.

Lizzie Borden Quotes in In the Lake of the Woods

The In the Lake of the Woods quotes below are all either spoken by Lizzie Borden or refer to Lizzie Borden. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Vietnam, Authorship, Interpretation Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Penguin Books edition of In the Lake of the Woods published in 1995.
Chapter 25 Quotes

Why do we care about Lizzie Borden, or Judge Carter, or Lee Harvey Oswald, or the Little Big Horn? Because of all that cannot be known. And what if we did know? What if it were proved—absolutely and purely—that Lizzie Borden took an ax? That Oswald acted alone? That Judge Carter fell into Sicilian hands? Nothing more would beckon, nothing would tantalize.

Related Characters: Narrator (speaker), Lizzie Borden, Lee Harvey Oswald
Page Number: 266
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quotation, the narrator applies the rules of magic to real life (and to the novel). The world is full of unsolved mysteries, the narrator begins: Kennedy's assassination, the Battle of Little Big Horn, etc. There have been many people who've tried to solve these real-life mysteries, devoting thousands and thousands of hours to doing so. And yet for all their efforts, the narrator concludes, most of us don't really want to know the answer to the mystery. As with a magic trick, a real-life mystery (even a tragic or traumatic one) is fascinating in part because we can't know what really happened. Everyone feels a hunger for the truth, but if that hunger were ever satisfied in the case of (for example) Kennedy's assassination, people would forfeit something equally powerful—the sense of tantalizing excitement.

O'Brien's observations have some obvious relevance to the events of the novel. When we began reading, we naturally assumed that we would learn the solution to the "mystery" of Kathy's disappearance. But as we approach the end of the book, it becomes clear that O'Brien isn't going to tell us what happened. Furthermore, it's possible that we don't truly want to know what happened: the possibilities are too intriguing to choose only one.


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Lizzie Borden Character Timeline in In the Lake of the Woods

The timeline below shows where the character Lizzie Borden appears in In the Lake of the Woods. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 25: Evidence
Vietnam, Authorship, Interpretation Theme Icon
War, Memory, and Trauma Theme Icon 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... (full context)