“In the Lake of the Woods” is a non-linear novel by Tim O’ Brien that consists of the themes trauma and insecurity. The protagonist of the text, John Wade is driven into insanity due to his fear of losing the love of his life, Kathy. Throughout the novel, john Wade’s secrets are exposed to the world, this being the reason that ended his career as a politician, which was the final push towards his madness. Wade was not only affected by his shattering moment in his career, but his childhood and experiences of war in Vietnam left him traumatized and feeling unworthy of love. John begins to crave love at an early stage I his life, after he meets Kathy he develops an obsession for her and becomes dependent on her love. He faces many issues with Kathy, trust being the main one; this could potentially be the reason for John’s breakdown of sanity. Although Kathy played a large role in his life and downfall, there was a whole other range of factors that took part in his fall to insanity.
John Wade started off his career with a goal in mind, to become something important in the political world. As he progressed through his career, he became aware of the fact that his past could ruin what he was currently building. Wade, as a child learnt to deal with his problems by bottling them up and pretending nothing had happened “this could not have happened. Therefore it did not” John believes that if he lies to himself, and continuously blocks out memories of his dirty past, he would be safe from the secrets. His method did not serve to his likings, as his secrets were exposed to the world despite John’s lies to himself. The secrets of his partaking in the massacre of “Thuan Yen” were exposed during his election, which proved to be a “career ender”. John used his career as a politician to gain the love and affection he so deeply desired. Growing up, he didn’t receive the love he craved, “you show me a politician and I’ll show you an unhappy childhood.” John losing the election was essentially the loss of his source of love and his sense of power and control. This potentially drove John into insanity.
As a child, John Wade suffered. He loved his father but didn’t receive any affection in return. His father continuously teased john, referring to him as “jiggling john”. This makes John feel that if his own father could not
love him, then he was unworthy of love itself. At the young age of fourteen, John’s father committed suicide. This traumatized john and led to his “desire to kill” the night of his fathers funeral. He wanted “to kill his father for dying” John was clearly angered by his father’s death, but instead of venting his anger in a healthy way, he pretended it didn’t happen, “It was pretending, but the pretending helped”. As John grew older he enrolled with the army to fight in the Vietnam War. He was registered with a group called “Charlie company” Unfortunately, John was involved in the massacre of “thuan yen”, where he witnessed murder, torture and had a first hand experience in taking two lives, one being his mate PFC weatherby. This came back to John as nightmares and flashbacks. He tried to forget and pretend it didn’t happen but it all came back to him during his slumbers, the memories and guilt will always be with john, in some way.
The failed politician met Kathy in “the autumn of 1966” at the university of Minnesota. John’s obsession is evident from the very moment he meets Kathy. He is in love with her, and the “trick” is to “make her love him and never stop”. John treats life as a magic show, growing up, magic was his only friend, it gave him a sense of power, happiness and was the only thing going right in his life, as an adult John continues to use tricks to solve all of his problems. John, in a sense, manipulates Kathy and develops a fixation on her and doesn’t stop at anything to find out everything about her life. His urgency comes from fear; he doesn’t want to lose her. After his father committed suicide and in a way, abandoned John, he feels that at any moment Kathy can just get up and leave. Kathy had a tendency to “simply vanish”. She is “fiercely independent” which intimidated john because he felt that Kathy was too good for him. John genuinely loves Kathy, but the way he represents their love is alarming; he compared their love to a pair of snakes he’s seen along a trail near Pinkville, “each snake eating the other’s tail, a bizarre circle of appetites that brought the heads closer and closer” “That’s how our love feels”. This image, along with his desire “crawl inside her belly indicates a love that is both obsessive and destructive. His need to control and ‘consume’ Kathy dictates how his obsession for his wife leads to the loss of his sanity.
Although John’s fear of losing Kathy is a main part of his downfall, there is a whole range of factors that lead to his mental breakdown. His fear of losing his wife all trails back to his childhood, where his first traumatizing experience takes place. When the fourteen year Old’s father died, he was not hurt in a ‘normal’ way, It seems almost as if john missed the concept of having a father figure rather then his actual father. This becomes clearer when john remembers an idolized and great version of his father unlike the real one, who was “continuously teasing” John and suffered from alcoholism. John begins his life of pretence from this moment on thinking the pretending “would help”. As Wade develops into an adult, his ways never seem to change. During his time served in the Vietnam War, John is better known as “sorcerer” because of his magic tricks and deceit to the rest of his fellow soldiers. John, having started magic from a young age, continues to use it in his adulthood, providing him with a sense of control and power and during the time was fulfilling his craving for love. John takes part in a horrific act of massacring in “Thuan yen” where he kills two human lives, and watches his fellow soldiers in “Charlie company” murder numerous people. This comes back to traumatize and haunt John, as Post traumatic stress disorder tends to do, it came back as flashbacks and nightmares. His infatuation with Kathy was a major part in John’s demise; however, the various other components in the novel prove to have had an effect on his sanity.