In the Lake of the Woods Essay

The Narrator of the novel is limited by all that he does not and cannot know! Can we, then, describe him as ‘reliable? ’ “In the lake of the woods” by Tim O’Brien is a fictional recollection of events according to a fictional character created by the author – the narrator. As the narrator is portrayed as a “historian” who spent four years researching John Wade, we should be aware that all that is written may not necessarily be true as the narrator is human. Innately he is restricted in his capabilities to be omnipresent and thus omniscient.

The story is recreated by the narrator himself, therefore making it an interpretation of his viewpoints and perception of everything. This is acknowledged by the narrator himself as he admits that all he is ever left with is “supposition and possibility” and that even after four years of hard work, the story should be viewed as nothing more than an “imaginative reconstruction of events”. All the narrator is doing is depicting the story of John Wade in the way he sees fit to do so taking into account all his acuity and pre-conceived notions.

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This is why everything in the book must not be viewed as the truth for “evidence is not truth. It is only evident”. Hence the narrator can admit to being constrained when it comes to knowing everything as he will always be constrained by his perception in things that he does know and his imagination of things he cannot possibly know. For this reason he cannot be viewed as being completely reliable and trustworthy but through the use of his evidence chapters and external links, we can to some extent consider him reliable.

However, although we cannot completely rely on his recreation of events we can appreciate all the hard work that the narrator did go through to piece this story together. This can be seen through the evidence chapters which give lend credibility to the story constructed by the narrator. These chapters must not be viewed as entirely untruthful. The contain testimonies of various characters who personally knew John and Kathy Wade. Yet even these evidence chapters may be viewed with some sort of scepticism as the narrator does not include his own questions which had to have taken place in the interviews.

This enhances the point that actual conversations could have been taken out of context, thus giving the narrator ample chance to manipulate it in any way. This intrinsically leading the reader to be manipulated in their opinions, to a degree. So while the narrator may be reliable to some extent, the book must be viewed as a construction and manipulation of events to give a story. An example of this would be when Wade supposedly shoots PFC Weatherby. “Sorcerer shot him anyway”. This quote from the book has no evidence behind it at all. There are no accounts of this ever happening and no one to confirm or deny this event.

The narrator could easily have made this up as the book is written in his point of view. Moreover it is human nature to weave ones own beliefs into a recreation of any event/and or events. Therefore while the narrator may be trustworthy in some ways, according to Tim O’Brien he is “imperfect…trying to present an accurate flow of events, periodically stepping back to make sense of what he’s relating”. Reliable as the narrator may be, he is limited to all that he does know by what he does not know for even what he assumes to be facts from other characters like Eleanor Wade and Patricia S.

Hood can easily be half truths or distorted versions of it. The authenticity of other characters is another point to be considered when debating the reliability of the narrator. Each character interviewed has something different to say about John Wade. He is referred to as a “nice polite man” by Ruth Rasmussen, “a charmer” by Tony Carbo, “a secretive boy” by his mother and many more. In reality none of them could have told the truth or all of them could have. Neither the narrator nor the reader will ever know as John Wade is not present to verify anything.

It is just all supposition that the people the narrator interviewed were telling the truth. As a result, the reader will never fully understand the intricate workings of Wade’s mind, emotions and thoughts. Readers should also be skeptical about the way the book is constructed as well. The book may appear to be scrambled but it is done on purpose. As the narrator controls the revelation of information, details build on one another causing many different possibilities to accumulate in the reader’s mind. Consequently the reader is led to construct events and interpret it themselves.

This suggests and enforces the view that the narrator is simply a seeker of truth and that he really has been “faithful to the evidence”. It makes the reader less inclined to be suspicious of the narrator as he does not support or deny any of his hypothesis. Instead he lets the reader decide for themselves all the while telling them that there is “no end, happy or otherwise” as “mystery finally claims them”. So while the narrator may not be reliable in all that he says, we can to some extent believe it to be the truth even though he is constrained by his own knowledge of everything he cannot know and the evidence he collected.

In final, the narrator’s ability to know everything and see everything is hindered. He is simply a “theory man…biographer, historian, medium”, to which he freely admits. Everything else is just conjecture. To the narrators credit, he did spend four years researching John Wade in an effort to tell a truthful story. Even still that’s all he will ever be, a collator of “facts”. With all the information he collects, he does try to create an accurate but “fictional” recreation of events which could have easily happened even if they did not.

Nonetheless we can look to the narrator for a truthful recollection of the facts because he does not steer the reader towards his own viewpoints or prejudices. Fundamentally, even if the narrator is limited in his knowledge of what he does and does not know, the narrator can be viewed as a reliable and trustworthy source of information. Flawed by his inability to know everything, one should not view everything he says as a lie. Just because an event is not necessarily true, does not mean it is not true.


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