E. B. White

Start Free Trial

In "Once More to the Lake," there is a reference to the chill of death in the last paragraph. What brings this feeling?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In this essay, White returns many years later to the same lake in Maine he traveled to as a child with his father in 1904. White's essay explores the complex and troubling series of emotions this journey elicits in him.

At the end of the essay, as White watches,...

See
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

In this essay, White returns many years later to the same lake in Maine he traveled to as a child with his father in 1904. White's essay explores the complex and troubling series of emotions this journey elicits in him.

At the end of the essay, as White watches, his son, who is insisting on swimming in the lake, pulls down an icy cold, soggy set of bathing trunks from the line and winces as he puts them. At this moment, White feels a chill himself in his groin that seems to mirror his son's chill. However, White's own chill is metaphoric, not literal. It represents his realization of his own mortality.

In the essay, White superimposes his own memories of being a boy at the same lake with his own father over his current experiences as now the father of a boy about the same age he was when he first came here. His feelings are extraordinarily bittersweet rather than simply sentimentally nostalgic. This is because White acutely realizes what the passage of time means. His own father is dead, and now he is in his father's shoes. This means he is that much closer to his own death, a painful emotion that hits him fully as he realizes he is no longer the young boy his son still is. In his son, and in the passage of time, White comes face to face with the unsettling inevitability of his own demise.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The "chill of death" is White's realization of his own mortality. It was brought on, initially, by an afternoon thunderstorm at the lake to which he has brought his son, the same lake White had vacationed as a child. The storm reminds White of a similar one he had seen as a child. Thunderstorms over a lake "had not changed in any important respect," he writes. "This was the big scene, still the big scene."

After the darkness of the thunder and lightning, White notes that children still run outside to swim in the rain, "the return of light and hope and spirits." He calls it a melodrama, and notes that the cycle of storm and calm, darkness and hope, goes on eternally. As he watches his son change into his bathing suit to join the other swimmers, he sees the son wince when the still-wet suit touches his groin. This reminds that author that the cycles of nature applies to him, too. Just as his father brought him here, watched White experience a thunderstorm, and then passed on, White realizes he is part of the same cycle and must eventually face the same end. This causes a physical sensation—the "chill of death."

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Throughout E. B. White's return to the lake in Maine he visited as a child, he experiences and re-experiences the visit as both a child and as a father. At first, he feels that the lake is the same as what it has always been, but he feels that his son, who is busy doing the things kids do, has become E. B. White. In return, E. B. White feels that he has become his father.

During each experience, E. B. White notes the way in which the lake and its environs are similar to what they once were and the ways in which time has changed them. For example, when he is walking across the field, which remains the same, he notes that the third track, where the horses once walked, is gone, and there are only the two tracks for cars. At the end of the story, his son decides to jump into the cold lake during the rainstorm and pulls on his cold bathing suit, but E. B. White has no intention of doing so. At this moment, E. B. White feels a chill of death, as he is aware that he is no longer experiencing the lake as he did when he was a child. Instead, this experience has passed entirely to his son, and E. B. White feels intensely the passage of time and of impending death.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In this essay, E.B. White is talking about his feelings as he and his son visit this lake that was a special place for White when he was young.  As he visits, White sees himself in a number of different ways.  He sees himself as a youth (through the eyes of his son).  He sees himself through his own eyes "now."  And he sees himself as his own father who is now dead.

This is because he is at this place where he went as a kid.  It reminds him of when he was young and so he sees himself through his son's eyes.  At the same time, he is experiencing the lake as his current self.  But he is also thinking about his father who had this same experience long ago when White was young.  Thinking of his father, of course, reminds him that he, too, will die.

So when White sees his son doing things White himself once did, he thinks about how he was once young and is no longer young.  He also thinks about how his father was once his age and is now dead.  This brings White to think of his own death and that is why he feels the "chill of death."

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team