In the Lake of the Woods


Tim O’Brien

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In the Lake of the Woods: Chapter 3 Summary & Analysis

John Wade’s father died when John was fourteen years old. After learning of his father’s death, he felt the desire to kill. At the funeral, for instance, he wanted to kill his father, everyone who was crying, and everyone who wasn’t.
This information about John and his father implicates John in Kathy’s death. Clearly, he has the potential to do harm to others—he wants to harm others at a funeral, of all places. At the same time, he was just a kid devastated by the death of his father and lashing out mentally.
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For weeks after his father’s death, John buries his head in his pillow and imagines his father being alive. He imagines the two of them talking about the right way to hit a baseball. Later on, John invents stories for himself about how he could have saved his father’s life by blowing into his father’s mouth and restarting his heart.
John’s behavior following his father’s death shows his capacity for fantasy and deception. He begins by deceiving himself—trying to make himself believe that his father is still alive. This section paints John in a highly sympathetic light—he has no say in his father’s death, even if it has a huge influence on his development.
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While some of the stories John tells himself comfort him, nothing works for long. John can’t fool himself—his father is dead. Nevertheless, he imagines finding his father in the house, putting him in his pocket, and vowing never to lose him again.
O’Brien suggests that deception never works for long—in the end, the truth is always revealed. This corresponds to what we know about how mysteries work—given enough time, the truth always makes itself known.
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