In the Lake of the Woods


Tim O’Brien

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In the Lake of the Woods Symbols

The Lake

The most obvious symbol in In the Lake of the Woods (so obvious it’s in the title) is the lake itself. Throughout the book, we’re told that Lake of the Woods is big and complex—so… (read full symbol analysis)

Weight and Fat

Many characters in In the Lake of the Woods struggle with their weight: John endured mockery from his alcoholic father, Paul, for getting fat in the 4th grade. Tony, complains about his weight… (read full symbol analysis)


John performs magic tricks throughout his life: when he’s a child, when he’s in the army, and even when he’s a politician. The symbolism of John’s fondness is frequently and explicitly stated: magic symbolizes John’s… (read full symbol analysis)


At several points in In the Lake of the Woods, soldiers—Richard Thinbill and the narrator himself—suggest that it was the sunlight in Vietnam that made American soldiers commit murder and other atrocities. It’s… (read full symbol analysis)

One Plus One Equals Zero / The Two Snakes

The phrase “one plus one equals zero” shows up at several points in the novel, as does the symbol of two snakes eating each other. In a sense, these are two different versions of the… (read full symbol analysis)

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