In "Once More to the Lake", what fresh and vivid imagery did White use to bring life to his abstract ideas.  Explain how such employment helped towards the development of the story's ideas. 

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One distinct example of the fresh and vivid imagery that White uses to bring to life his abstract ideas can be seen in his recollections.  White is able to combine memory with a condition of the present that is rooted in sensory perception. In this way, White is able to find a way to combine past and present in a reconfiguration of time, what White would term as his "dual existence."  The first time he employs this idea is one such example where fresh and vivid imagery help to bring abstractions into reality:

I began to sustain the illusion that he was I, and therefore, by simple transposition, that I was my father. This sensation persisted, kept cropping up all the time we were there. It was not an entirely new feeling, but in this setting it grew much stronger. I seemed to be living a dual existence. 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.

The "dual existence" that White articulates is very abstract. The way in which he brings it into reality is through merging the past and present with exact, sensory based images that enable him to communicate to the reader how White, the adult, slips into the nostalgic reverie of White, the child.  Images such as seeing himself as "my father" and "I would be saying something and suddenly, it would be not I but my father" is how imagery helps to bring abstraction into clarity.  The reader understands that the reconfiguration of time is a reflection of White's experiences as both child and adult.  

The abstraction of White's own construction of time through imagery is introduced in the outset of the writing.  White is able to establish clearly that he has a particular fondness for the lake.  The idea of going back to it "once more," this time as a father with his own son, compels him to experience the past through the portal of the present.  White uses the specificity of detail to illuminate the emotional pain of seeing that which one loves as a youth marred by time.  In being able to connect an emotional experience of time's passage with the experience, White is able to use fresh and vivid imagery as a means to concretize an abstract experience:

I wondered how time would have marred this unique, this holy spot--the coves and streams, the hills that the sun set behind, the camps and the paths behind the camps. I was sure that the tarred road would have found it out and I wondered in what other ways it would be desolated. It is strange how much you can remember about places like that once you allow your mind to return into the grooves which lead back. You remember one thing, and that suddenly reminds you of another thing.

White is able to use specific imagery to explain an inexact hold on the past.  It is a difficult balance to strike.  White is able to do so because in explaining the specific details of the present in light with the past, he illuminates part of the human predicament.  To a great extent, we fear the passage of time because it will challenge the composition of our good memories.  Nothing can prevent time from ravaging them, and this fear is communicates through White's imagery.  These mental pictures become a method through which he can communicate his love of the past through an exact, sensory dense detailed rendition of the present:

I guess I remembered clearest of all the early mornings, when the lake was cool and motionless, remembered how the bedroom smelled of the lumber it was made of and of the wet woods whose scent entered through the screen. The partitions in the camp were thin and did not extend clear to the top of the rooms, and as I was always the first up I would dress softly so as not to wake the others, and sneak out into the sweet outdoors and start out in the canoe, keeping close along the shore in the long shadows of the pines. I remembered being very careful never to rub my paddle against the gunwale for fear of disturbing the stillness of the cathedral.

It is in this construction filled with exact details where White is able to suggest that time has not taken away his memories.  He repeatedly repeats the idea that "there had been no years passed," or that there was "no passage of time" or "There had been no years."  For White, the present and the past merge into a configuration of the eternal present.  White uses this as a means to transpose the passage of time between his father, himself, and his son. Embracing the idea that "the child is the father of the man," White closes the essay with a vision of his own future in seeing his son: 

Languidly, and with no thought of going in, I watched him, his hard little body, skinny and bare, saw him wince slightly as he pulled up around his vitals the small, soggy, icy garment. As he buckled the swollen belt suddenly my groin felt the chill of death.

White understands that "once more to the lake" is a reflection of how his own condition in life has changed.  The lake has not changed.  He has, and as a result, life and his understanding of it looks radically different.  White has moved to a time of life where Pond's Extract on his arms and legs have given way to issues of his own identity and mortality.  This abstraction is made clear through the employment of fresh and vivid imagery that helps to construct his own "dual existence" within a condition of the eternal present.

For White, the only way he can communicate his own development of consciousness is through the exact imagery of the moment.  This instant, the instant of the lake, is the portal through which abstract concepts like life, death, and consciousness can be understood.  The story's ideas are rooted in the passage of time, and how it impacts the individual.  The only way that White can illuminate such an abstract idea is to take a memory from his own past (going to the lake) and displaying how even though he has changed, the lake, itself has not.  There are experiences in our lives that we revisit only to find that they have not changed.  We have.  Our change is mirrored in their constancy.  In a world of mutability and fluidity, there are some constants.  These constants remind us how much we have changed and how much more change there is within our being in the world.  For White to communicate such an abstract idea, he has to employ fresh and vivid imagery which is rooted in the present tense.  He recognizes that to connect his abstract experience to the reader's, he had to place them in that instant.  This involves sensory details that employ perceptions such as sight, sound, smell, and taste.  He has to make the reader experience these moments as he has for he is experiencing them as young person, as adult, and through his own child. This "dual existence," one that transcends time, can only be communicated if the reader is able to be placed in it.  It is for this reason that the employment of fresh and vivid imagery helps to develop the writing's ideas and themes.