E.B. White’s “Once More to the Lake”
White uses the lake as a setting where the narrator reflects on his past. It is a place where the present and past are both present. The lake is one of the only constants in his life that unlike everything else is still the same as in his childhood (” the small waves were the same, chucking the rowboat(…)the boat was the same boat, the same color green and the ribs broken in the same places, and under the floor the same freshwater leavings and debris”).
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Although the lake itself and most other things haven’t changed, the narrator does notice some slight new things
When all those childhood memories come up, the narrator gets trapped between the present and the past which confuses him. He is unable to differentiate between the two, “living a dual existence”. In other words, he experiences the situations as himself now, a father of a son but also as a child when he was younger. He compares himself to his son, as they make the same experiences at the lake. It shows the cycle of different generations. The narrator belongs to the first generation to come to the lake. Now he shows to his son who represents the next generation. It implies how life moves forward. Time has passed since the narrator has been to the lake as a child. But he hasn’t realized that yet. He’s denying his own mortality.
White uses symbolism to illustrate the cycle of life by describing an upcoming thunderstorm. In the last paragraph, a thunderstorm arises (“one afternoon while we were there at the lake a thunderstorm came up”). The thunderstorm represents the transition from one generation to the next. A storm is a change in the weather. The sky turns from nice sunny weather to dark (“curious darkening of the sky”). The end of the first cycle.
After a storm passes, the weather gets better again and the campers go back out to the lake. The author depicts “the return of light and hope and spirits”. Something new begins. The thunderstorm is a metaphor for a cycle of life and death. Besides, the thunder is compared to the sound of a drum set (“the kettle drum, the snare drum, then the bass drum and cymbals”) and is sent from gods (“the gods grinning and licking their chops in the hills”). This again implies life and death. The narrator remembers seeing thunderstorms when he was a child. To him, it’s like “the revival of an old melodrama” but with the difference that he is now grown up and an adult.
In the last paragraph, the narrator realizes his own mortality, when he sees his son going into the water to swim. Just like a parent, he doesn’t go in the water himself but sits outside watching his son. He feels the “chills of death”. In other words, the narrator becomes aware of the reality that he has grown up and will eventually die. This is emphasized by the fact that the entire story ends with the word death just like everyone’s life eventually ends with death. The narrator is now an adult, a father with a son who will one day grow up and die as well. It is the cycle of life.