In the Lake of the Woods

In the Lake of the Woods

In the Lake of the Woods Chapter 12 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
This chapter consists of more pieces of evidence. The first is a quote from Robert Parrish’s book, The Magician’s Notebook. Parrish writes that magic tricks are possible because the magician hides the true causes of the trick. The spectators want to believe that the magic is possible; that the magician can makes things happen simply by casting a spell, rather than by manipulating things from behind the scenes.
Parrish’s rule will become enormously important to understanding the novel because it explains how people like John can pretend to be something they’re not and fool other people. It also gives us a method for understanding the novel itself—O’Brien is performing a kind of magic trick on us, and we go along with it.
Themes
Appearance, the Unknowable, and Magic Theme Icon
Patricia claims that John thought of himself as Sorcerer long after Vietnam, and that Kathy thought of him as Sorcerer, too—she wants him to pull off a miracle. The author Bernard C. Meyer notes that spectators want to believe in magic; they give in to the great force and power of the magician.
Kathy’s love for John makes sense in the context of magic. By this argument, Kathy knows that she’s being fooled, but goes along with the trick anyway because it’s exciting. She both trusts and distrusts John—this makes her attraction to John stronger than any attraction based on trust alone.
Themes
War, Memory, and Trauma Theme Icon
Evil, Human Nature, and Freedom Theme Icon
Tony Carbo says that John was a charmer, and Ruth Rasmussen calls him a nice, polite man. Bethany Lee claims that Kathy knew about John’s secrets, but also that Kathy wanted to be a part of them. An author named Patience H.C. Mason writes that the Vietnam veteran may seem not to need other people’s help, but one must offer the veteran help anyway. Parrish argues that the fun of magic is that people want to believe in magic, but also know that magic is impossible. In this section there is also a list of John’s childhood magic tricks, including Chinese rings and a Silk load, as well as a postcard from John’s father that contains the words “out of here soon.”
We’re given multiple, contradictory pieces of information about John. Clearly, John was capable of charming others, such as Ruth and Kathy, and clearly his charm also rubbed other people the wrong way. It’s suggested that his experiences in Vietnam endeared him to Kathy—Kathy wanted to take care of him, and his silence on the topic of Vietnam made her care for him even more. The section ends with another hint that John’s father had a huge influence on his development—the words on the postcard could refer to jail, or they could foreshadow his father’s death.
Themes
Appearance, the Unknowable, and Magic Theme Icon
Eleanor says that when John was eleven, his father, whose name was Paul, went to stay with a state treatment center to fight his alcoholism. When he returned from treatment, he claimed that he was better, but his alcoholism never improved. Tony Carbo suggests that all politicians are insecure performers—they go into public life because they want to please others and be loved in return. Sandra Karra, the red-haired woman from the magic shop, notes that John continues to visit her store even when he got older but never learned her name.
We see that the words from John’s father’s postcard referred to his time in a state treatment center. This is the only time we see John’s father’s name in the entire novel. This underscores how little we really know about Paul: no amount of evidence or reporting can tell us what kind of man he was. Like his own father, it’s suggested, John wanted to please others, even when it was clear that no amount of effort would make other people love him. The section ends with an indication that John is uncomfortable around women—for him there’s something intimidating and unknowable about them. Perhaps this explains his desire to know everything about Kathy.
Themes
Vietnam, Authorship, Interpretation Theme Icon
War, Memory, and Trauma Theme Icon
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Richard Thinbill again mentions the huge number of flies, but doesn’t say where he saw them. A quote from the Nuremberg Trials argues that soldiers aren’t relieved of moral responsibility simply because they were following orders. A magician’s handbook defines misdirection—a technique the magician uses to distract the audience from the real source of his trick. In Vietnam, John sends Kathy a letter about having a strange infection in his body. He signs the letter “Sorcerer.”
There’s a clear thought sequence in these pieces of evidence. John seems to have been involved in military atrocity in Vietnam, for which he’s legally guilty of war crimes. Thus, he practices misdirection on Kathy by pretending to be in pain. This also suggests that he feels guilt for his actions, and is trying to punish 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
Richard M. Nixon argues that the soldier is at his most dangerous after the battle, when he is too exhausted to know to do the right thing. The historian Robert A. Caro describes how angry Lyndon Johnson would become after losing an election, and the politician Thomas E. Dewey notes that all politicians are in a state of shock after they lose an election. The chapter concludes with the final results of the primaries for the Democratic Farmer Labor Party in Minnesota: Durkee with 73% and Wade with 21%.
The chapter ends by suggesting that John was capable of almost anything—he was both a returning soldier and a defeated politician. One again, this suggests that he may have been involved in Kathy’s disappearance, and may have hurt or even killed her. We revisit the statistics about John’s electoral defeat that we’d seen in an earlier chapter. The message is clear: the same information can be interpreted many different ways, depending on context. The numbers suddenly seem sinister to us, since they indicate that John may have committed murder.
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