ABSTRACT. In this study I propose that during the Vietnam War American soldiers’ relationships were sustained by their shared resentment of American women both during their conflict and afterwards. In two of Tim O’Brien’s novels, The Things They Carried and In the Lake of the Woods, a soldier’s bond to his fellow men is actually strengthened upon that soldier’s firm rejection of his “insensitive” girlfriend/lover, a character who repeatedly appears as the representation of the American woman in much of Vietnam War narrative, particularly in O’Brien’s works. The soldiers, Jimmy Cross (Things) and John Wade (Lake), are moreover depicted as victims to their lovers’ lack of sympathy for their trauma. Specifically, I analyze the destructive effect that this unsympathetic woman has on the soldier’s/vet’s masculinity and stability, and the inappropriate merging of love and violence that spawns from the woman’s rejection (or the soldier’s/vet’s fear of rejection). Finally, I examine O’Brien’s manipulative and coercive narration, which asks readers and critics alike to excuse his character’s “hard, hating kind of love” due to his lover’s failure to truly understand his war, and, furthermore, invites the reader to join him in blaming the “insensitive woman” for the soldier’s bad acts both during and after his tour of duty. I trace the birth of the uncaring female character, Martha, in The Things They Carried on to her eventual demise (as Kathy Wade) in In the Lake of the Woods, and therefore show the disturbing escalation of violence and misogyny from battlefield soldier to eventual husband, a horrific glimpse into a “what if” scenario whereby the veteran marries this insensitive woman and tries to reject his platoon’s deadly history. pp. 76–120

Keywords: Vietnam War; trauma; masculinity; male victimization; insensitive women; gender

How to cite: Ferguson, Lisa (2016), “‘Dumb Coozes’ and Damaged Men: Female Stereotypes, Male Victimization, and Manipulative Narration in The Things They Carried and In the Lake of the Woods,” Journal of Research in Gender Studies 6(1): 76–120.

Received 11 December 2015 • Received in revised form 4 January 2016
Accepted 5 January 2016 • Available online 25 February 2016


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Ph.D., University of Alabama

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