In the Lake of the Woods


Tim O’Brien

Teachers and parents! Our Teacher Edition on Lake of the Woods makes teaching easy.

In the Lake of the Woods Characters

John Herman Wade

The protagonist of the novel, John Wade is a politician whose career comes to an abrupt halt after it’s revealed that he was involved in the infamous My Lai massacre of 1968 during his time… read analysis of John Herman Wade

Kathleen “Kathy” Terese Wade

The wife of John Wade, whose mysterious disappearance while she and her husband are at Lake of the Woods is the subject of the novel. Kathy first meets John while they’re both college students… read analysis of Kathleen “Kathy” Terese Wade


In the Lake of the Woods is narrated by an unnamed Vietnam veteran, whose reasons for researching John Wade’s life and compiling the research into a book are left largely unexplained. Most of the… read analysis of Narrator

Anthony “Tony” L. Carbo

John Wade’s campaign manager. A fat, unattractive man, Tony seems utterly amoral throughout much of the novel, often telling John that he should avoid talking about the issues and focus on his “image.” In… read analysis of Anthony “Tony” L. Carbo

Claude Rasmussen

An old, wealthy, and intelligent man, a longtime donor to the Democratic Party, and husband to the much younger Ruth Rasmussen, Claude Rasmussen is an ambiguous character for much of In the Lake ofread analysis of Claude Rasmussen
Get the entire Lake of the Woods LitChart as a printable PDF.
In the Lake of the Woods PDF

Vincent “Vinny” R. Pearson

A pale-skinned part-time detective who also runs a Texaco gas station, and the cousin of Myra Shaw, Vinny served in Vietnam, and resents John because of John’s role at My Lai. He works with… read analysis of Vincent “Vinny” R. Pearson

Richard Thinbill

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… read analysis of Richard Thinbill

Ruth Rasmussen

The wife of Claude Rasmussen, who takes care of John Wade after Kathy’s disappearance. Ruth Rasmussen is in her fifties, and married to the much older Claude. She insists that John is a… read analysis of Ruth Rasmussen

Sheriff Arthur J. Lux

The local sheriff near Lake of the Woods who is responsible for investigating Kathy’s disappearance. Lux remains largely neutral during his investigation, especially when compared with his colleague, Vincent Pearson. Nevertheless, he seems… read analysis of Sheriff Arthur J. Lux

Lieutenant William “Rusty” Calley

A young American lieutenant who orders the troops under his command to murder innocent Vietnamese villagers, including women and children, at Thuan Yen. Calley is the only soldier who doesn’t show any signs of guilt… read analysis of Lieutenant William “Rusty” Calley

Paul Wade

Paul Wade (mentioned by name only once in the novel) is John’s father, and the husband of Eleanor Wade. He plays an enormous role in the novel, insofar as he influences his son’s… read analysis of Paul Wade

Lizzie Borden

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… read analysis of Lizzie Borden

Lee Harvey Oswald

The supposed assassin of John F. Kennedy, and a veteran of the American military, Lee Harvey Oswald is at the center of a huge number of conspiracy theories concerning the Kennedy assassination. There are those… read analysis of Lee Harvey Oswald
Minor Characters
Eleanor K. Wade
John Wade’s mother, quoted many times in the “Evidence” chapters. She defends her son from all accusations of wrongdoing, and almost always takes the most sympathetic view of his actions.
Patricia “Pat” S. Hood
Kathy’s sister, described as a fitter, healthier version of Kathy. Patricia doubts John’s sincerity and regularly expresses her amazement that Kathy stayed with him for so long. When the possibility arises that John was involved in Kathy’s disappearance, John senses that Patricia is very suspicious of him.
Bethany Kee
A co-worker of Kathy’s at the University of Minnesota, Bethany offers her take on Kathy’s disappearance during many of the “Evidence” chapters. She finds Kathy to be a cheerful woman, almost to the point where she must have been hiding something.
Lawrence Ehlers
John Wade’s high school gym coach, who vividly remembers the pain John felt on the day he learned of his father’s suicide.
Myra Shaw
A waitress at a Mini-Mart who sees John arguing with Kathy, and later sees John buying food just before his disappearance.
PFC Weatherby
A young soldier serving in Charlie Company during the Vietnam War. John Wade shoots and kills Weatherby, an action that haunts him for years afterwards.
Tommy Winn
A grade school classmate of John Wade who makes a speech about how much he likes John’s father, Paul Wade.
Paul Meadlo
A soldier in Charlie Company in Vietnam who loses his left foot to a land mine and later testifies for the Peers Commission Report concerning American soldiers’ behavior in Vietnam.
Mrs. Myrtle Meadlo
Mother of Paul Meadlo.
Salvatore LaMartina
A soldier in Charlie Company in Vietnam who later testifies for the Peers Commission Report concerning American soldiers’ behavior in Vietnam, and insists that he was only following orders at My Lai.
Bernard C. Meyer
Author of various books on magic and sleight of hand.
Sandra Karra
A red-haired woman who runs the magic shop where John often went as a child.
Robert A. Caro
Famous biographer of such important political figures as Robert Moses and Lyndon B. Johnson.
Thomas Pynchon
Famously reclusive novelist and author of Gravity’s Rainbow and The Crying of Lot 49.
Lyndon B. Johnson
American president from 1963 – 1969 who oversaw the expansion of the American war in Vietnam.
Thomas E. Dewey
Politician who served as Mayor of New York and later lost the presidency to Harry Truman in a famously unexpected defeat. O’Brien cites Dewey’s opinions on the psychological effects of defeat.
Richard M. Nixon
American president who resigned in disgrace in 1974 after the Watergate scandal.
J. Glenn Gray
Author of books on war and trauma, often cited by O’Brien on both subjects.
Robert Maples
A soldier who was present at My Lai and disobeyed orders by refusing to shoot women and children.
Dennis Conti
A soldier in Charlie Company in Vietnam who later testifies for the Peers Commission Report concerning American soldiers’ behavior in Vietnam. Conti testifies that he murdered women and babies, and raped Vietnamese women.
Fyodor Dostoevsky
19th century Russian author of Crime and Punishment and Notes from the Underground whose work is celebrated for its psychological depth and insight.
Doug Henning
A biographer of Houdini.
Harry Houdini
Legendary magician whose fascination with death and resurrection is compared with that of John Wade.
Anton Chekhov
Celebrated 19th century Russian author of plays and short stories.
Richard E. Ellis
Author of books on child development, cited for his opinions on the effects of a dead parent on a child’s growth.
Robert Karen
Child psychologist who O’Brien cites for his views on shame and guilt.
Woodrow Wilson
American president whose humiliations as a child, O’Brien speculates, were instrumental in encouraging him to take up politics as a career.
Colonel William V. Wilson
One of the lead investigators at the court-martial concerning the Mai Lai Massacre.
Gregory T. Olson
A soldier in Charlie Company in Vietnam who later testifies for the Peers Commission Report concerning American soldiers’ behavior in Vietnam, and who describes My Lai as an act of revenge.
George Sand
19th century novelist and essayist.
Allen J. Boyce
A soldier in Charlie Company in Vietnam who later testifies for the Peers Commission Report concerning American soldiers’ behavior in Vietnam, and who describes My Lai as an act of revenge.
Tommy L. Moss
A soldier in Charlie Company in Vietnam who later testifies for the Peers Commission Report concerning American soldiers’ behavior in Vietnam, and who describes My Lai as an act of revenge.
Pat Nixon
Richard Nixon’s wife, whose life is relevant to In the Lake of the Woods because, like Kathy Wade, she endured a huge amount of pageantry and campaign appearances for her politician husband’s sake.
Lester David
A biographer of Pat Nixon.
B. Traven
Reclusive author of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, often said to have changed his name to find a new identity for himself.
Karl S. Guthke
A biographer of B. Traven.
Jay Robert Nash
Author who is cited for noting that there are more than 30,000 cases of missing persons per year.
Sigmund Freud
Viennese founder of psychoanalysis, whose opinions about trauma and authorship are cited throughout the novel.
Edward F. Durkee
A Democratic nominee for the Senate who defeats John Wade in the primaries by digging up dirt on John’s role in the My Lai massacres.
The dentist with whom Kathy Wade has an affair. While it’s implied that John finds out about this affair and confronts Kathy, little to no information is given about Harmon himself—indeed, Kathy says she can barely remember what he looks like.
Ambrose Bierce
19th century writer who disappeared after saying he was going to explore Mexico.
Robert Parrish
Author of a classic text for magicians, The Magician’s Notebook, often cited by O’Brien to explain the psychology of a magic trick.
Patience H.C. Mason
Psychologist and specialist in Vietnam veterans’ post-traumatic stress disorder, cited for his opinions on trauma and memory.
General William Sherman
The notorious Civil War general for the Union who led a massive army through the South, eventually burning the city of Atlanta to the ground. Toward the end of his life, Sherman helped to settle the American West, calling for the “extermination” of the Native Americans.
Robert W. T’Souzas – A Vietnam war veteran who was tried and acquitted for the murder of children at My Lai, and was later murdered in the streets of his home town.