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What causes the uneasy feelings of the narrator in "Once More to the Lake" by E.B. White?

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britt103 | Student, Grade 11 | eNotes Newbie

Posted September 9, 2012 at 10:54 PM via web

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What causes the uneasy feelings of the narrator in "Once More to the Lake" by E.B. White?

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carol-davis | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted September 10, 2012 at 1:04 PM (Answer #1)

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"Once More to the Lake" by E.B. White is an essay which  involves the narrator [White himself]  and his son. The complexity of life finds White yearning for the tranquility of another time.  The memories of the vacations with his family and particularly White’s father have become an obsession with the writer. 

White uses literary techniques such as imagery, metaphor, and tone to illustrate the comparison of the lake as he remembers it as a boy to the subtle changes the lake has faced since he has been away. 

They were one-cylinder and two-cylinder engines. The one-lungers throbbed and fluttered, and the twin-cylinder ones purred and purred, and that was a quiet sound too.

Up there having been no passage of time, only the illusion of it as in a dropped curtain.

The here and now become confused with White's memories of his father and their time in this hallowed place. As White  compares the differences in the lake, what he does not expect are feelings of a parallel  existence.  He  is himself, yet he feels like his father. Often when his son engages in some activity or even changes his expression,  the narrator slips into those odd feelings of nostalgia, joy, and sadness, as though he is his father and his son becomes him when he was the boy. Confusing to the reader--imagine the bizarreness for White. 

White describes their recent experiences and then relates them closely to his past experiences which brings up forgotten, old memories.  As the father and son enjoy the trip to the lake, the narrator begins to have strange feelings that well up inside of him...

I would be in the middle of some simple act, I would be picking up a bait box or laying down a table fork, or I would be saying something, and suddenly it would be not I but my father who was saying the words or making the gesture. It gave me a creepy sensation.

Although White does not exude sentimentality, nostalgia is in every pore of his being. This place has spiritual quality for him. For example, White describes the lake and the shore as a “cathedral.” He notices subtle differences in the lake area, but the sensations he experiences are just the same.  White feels his father’s presence ubiquitously. Everything is the same but not quite.

There had been no years between the ducking of this dragonfly and the other one--the one. That was part of memory. I looked at the boy, who was silently watching his fly, and it was my hands that held his rod, my eyes watching.

White’s  “creepy sensations” stem from his repeated feeling that he is his father. The smells, the touches, the words—White realizes that soon his son will take his children to the lake. With that thought, comes "the chill of mortality." 

White’s tone changes as his memories begin to run parallel with the present. In the reliving of his childhood vacations, the boy has become the man, and the man has become the father. Once more to the lake--White's internal conflict make this experience both brilliant and eerie at the same time.

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