In the Lake of the Woods

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A young soldier who serves alongside John in Charlie Company, and witnesses enormous brutality at Thuan Yen, though he claims to be innocent of any wrongdoing. Richard Thinbill is ultimately responsible for bringing John’s presence at the massacres to the public eye. Richard shows signs of PTSD, and often comments on the flies surrounding the dead bodies at My Lai and Thuan Yen.

Richard Thinbill Quotes in In the Lake of the Woods

The In the Lake of the Woods quotes below are all either spoken by Richard Thinbill or refer to Richard Thinbill. 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 16 Quotes

All I remember now is the flies.

Related Characters: Richard Thinbill (speaker)
Page Number: 138
Explanation and Analysis:

Here, Richard Thinbill, a troubled Vietnam veteran, remembers his experiences in a Vietnamese village—the site of a brutal massacre orchestrated and carried out by American troops—by referring to flies. Thinbill's quotation says nothing, and everything. The word "flies" calls to mind eerie and disturbing things, like corpses or rotting meat. Without explicitly mentioning any of the unpleasant things we associate with flies, O'Brien conveys these qualities in Thinbill's mind. Indeed, the veiled allusions to death and destruction are more disturbing than any description of a dead body could ever be.

And yet flies don't just make us think of corpses and rotting meat. Flies are also completely ordinary animals, more common than dogs or cats. In short, flies are both strange and familiar; morbid and banal. By choosing flies as a symbol for Thinbill's recollections of Vietnam, O'Brien makes an important point about the way trauma works. The tiniest "trigger"—something as insignificant as a fly buzzing—could set Thinbill off on a long, painful flashback to his time in the war. Thinbill (and his hundreds of thousands of fellow veterans) lives in a nightmarish world in which he's constantly reliving the worst moments of his life.

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Chapter 21 Quotes

Thinbill sighed. “I guess that’s the right attitude. Laugh it off. Fuck the spirit world.”

Related Characters: Richard Thinbill (speaker), John Herman Wade
Page Number: 216
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quotation, Thinbill—one of the only soldiers mentioned in the novel who doesn't participate in the atrocities of My Lai and other Vietnamese villages—gives John Wade some advice on how to deal with trauma. John has witnessed innocent women and children being murdered, and has even shot a harmless elderly man. John can't stop thinking about the horrific sights he's seen: like many victims of PTSD, he remembers the faces of the dead in vivid, photographic detail. John's reaction to his terrifying memories is to laugh.

In the way Thinbill interprets John's laughter, John is trying to escape his own memories of Vietnam (which Thinbill refers to as the "spirit world," suggesting how Vietnam will "haunt" the American soldiers). But as O'Brien has already shown us, John can't just "laugh off" his trauma. For years, John tries to use performance, humor, and charm to forget his experiences in Vietnam, but he never succeeds in doing so. So Thinbill's interpretation of John's behavior may be incorrect. Thinbill believes John is "moving on," but in reality, John's laughter is just an extension of his trauma, not an escape from it. In short, John tries to laugh off his past, but fails.

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Richard Thinbill Character Timeline in In the Lake of the Woods

The timeline below shows where the character Richard Thinbill appears in In the Lake of the Woods. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 2: Evidence
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
Love and Relationships Theme Icon
...that John killed Kathy, an idea that Eleanor rejects as ridiculous. A man named Richard Thinbill complains about “flies,” though he doesn’t specify where he saw them. (full context)
Chapter 6: Evidence
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
...is structured as a collection of “evidence.” The first piece of evidence comes from Richard Thinbill, who says, “We called him Sorcerer.” The next pieces of evidence are related to John’s... (full context)
Chapter 12: Evidence
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
Richard Thinbill again mentions the huge number of flies, but doesn’t say where he saw them. A... (full context)
Chapter 16: Evidence
War, Memory, and Trauma Theme Icon
Evil, Human Nature, and Freedom Theme Icon
...soldier is often given orders that clash with his definition of right and wrong. Richard Thinbill complains once again about flies. A soldier named Salvatore LaMartina claims that everyone at My... (full context)
Chapter 20: Evidence
War, Memory, and Trauma Theme Icon
Appearance, the Unknowable, and Magic Theme Icon
Love and Relationships Theme Icon
...court-martial, Paul Meadlo discusses rounding up Vietnamese villagers and claims that they were Vietcong. Richard Thinbill claims that he shot no people in Vietnam, only cows. Eleanor says that she “found”... (full context)
Evil, Human Nature, and Freedom Theme Icon
Richard Thinbill, at a court-martial, explains that a soldier nicknamed Sorcerer shot an old man “by accident.”... (full context)
Vietnam, Authorship, Interpretation Theme Icon
Evil, Human Nature, and Freedom Theme Icon
...“the dentist.” The narrator, speaking in the first person for the first time, agrees with Thinbill that Vietnam was the spirit world: there were ghosts and graveyards everywhere. The narrator claims... (full context)
Chapter 21: The Nature of the Spirit
Evil, Human Nature, and Freedom Theme Icon
...and thorough. In the sunlight, soldiers shoot, rape, sodomize, and stab Vietnamese villagers. PFC Richard Thinbill, a young, good-looking man, asks Sorcerer if he can hear “the sound.” Sorcerer nods that... (full context)
War, Memory, and Trauma Theme Icon
Evil, Human Nature, and Freedom Theme Icon
The narrative returns to Vietnam. Charlie Company moves toward the sea in the east. Thinbill mentions the spirit world to Sorcerer, and observes, “Fuckers just don’t die.” The soldiers are... (full context)
War, Memory, and Trauma Theme Icon
Evil, Human Nature, and Freedom Theme Icon
Appearance, the Unknowable, and Magic Theme Icon
Thinbill says, half to the other soldiers and half to himself, that they must have killed... (full context)
War, Memory, and Trauma Theme Icon
Evil, Human Nature, and Freedom Theme Icon
...if they’ve heard any rumors that what happened in the village was criminal or murderous. Thinbill, intimidated, says that he hasn’t heard any rumors of this. When Calley asks Sorcerer if... (full context)
War, Memory, and Trauma Theme Icon
Evil, Human Nature, and Freedom Theme Icon
Later in the night, Thinbill approaches Sorcerer and asks him if he thinks the two of them should say something... (full context)
War, Memory, and Trauma Theme Icon
Evil, Human Nature, and Freedom Theme Icon
...urinate, and resume firing on their victims. As he laughs, John rolls into the mud. Thinbill tells him to take it easy. John begins to calm down, but as he calms... (full context)
War, Memory, and Trauma Theme Icon
Evil, Human Nature, and Freedom Theme Icon
...hears other sounds in the area—some people are crying, and there are echoes of gunshots. Thinbill tells John he has the right attitude—“fuck the spirit world.” (full context)
Chapter 25: Evidence
Vietnam, Authorship, Interpretation Theme Icon
War, Memory, and Trauma Theme Icon
Evil, Human Nature, and Freedom Theme Icon
Love and Relationships Theme Icon
Richard Thinbill is quoted talking about the flies. In another piece of evidence, from a court-martial, he... (full context)
Chapter 26: The Nature of the Dark
Vietnam, Authorship, Interpretation Theme Icon
War, Memory, and Trauma Theme Icon
All the soldiers who fought in Vietnam were young: Calley was 24, T’Souza was 19, Thinbill was 18, Sorcerer was 23, etc. After the massacre at Thuan Yen, they spent months... (full context)
Chapter 30: Evidence
War, Memory, and Trauma Theme Icon
Evil, Human Nature, and Freedom Theme Icon
Appearance, the Unknowable, and Magic Theme Icon
...Peers Commission, who was looking for dirt on John. In a letter to John, Richard Thinbill apologizes for giving testimony that was used to implicate John in the Thuan Yen massacres.... (full context)
Vietnam, Authorship, Interpretation Theme Icon
War, Memory, and Trauma Theme Icon
Appearance, the Unknowable, and Magic Theme Icon
...have to be hopeful, and thus hopes that John and Kathy are happy together somewhere. Thinbill acknowledges that John pulled off one final magic trick by disappearing. Still, Thinbill says, John... (full context)
War, Memory, and Trauma Theme Icon
In a footnote to Thinbill’s final comment, the narrator discusses the peculiarities of memory. Like John, the narrator has his... (full context)