What is White's purpose in the essay "Once More to the Lake"?
E.B. White wrote such classic children novels as Charlotte's Web and Stuart Little. White was quoted about writing:
I find that writing is difficult and bad for one's disposition."
Strange thoughts from an award winning author. Mr. White changes his genre to essay in "Once More to the Lake" written in 1941.
His essay is easily readable, and his diction is simplistic. His descriptions and imagery include White's past and present memories. The narration is first person through the eyes and voice of the author. On the other hand, White's theme is more illusive. This retrospection allows the reader to slip behind the wall of time and memories to watch a son and father enjoy the America dream, a vacation.
Reflecting on childhood memories, the author recalls a trip back to the place where he had spent summer vacations with his parents and siblings. This event, both pleasurable and melancholy, challenges White to look back at his relationship with his own father. Now that he has returned, White realizes that some things do not vary, and other things a person cannot stop from changing. He and his son stay in the same cabin near the same dock on the same lake as White had done in his childhood. Over and again, the author comments that "there has been no years gone by." Apparently, he felt that he had traveled back in time; and though several decades had passed, everything was the same.
Often, White experiences the feeling of being in the boy's place. He remembers a path used by a horse-drawn carriage that had three tracks. Through technology, there were now only two tire tracks left. For a moment, he misses terribly the middle alternatives. This time spent with his son has a spiritual quality. To the narrator, the woods and its surroundings were like a cathedral.
The last image that White relates explains the theme of his essay. It occurs during a rain shower, symbolic of a rebirth. His son slips on his swim trunks, and the author feels himself doing the same thing years before. Suddenly he feels a "chill of death" come over him. The memories of his father and his own mortality shudder through his body.
The author experiences with his son the same as he encountered with his own father a generation before. The role of technology, the nature of memory, and the passage of time--these all impact White's identity as the father now and the child decades before. The contrast between his pleasant memories with the complex emotions bring the author peace and yet confusion.
This joyful time White and his son spend together lapses into the author focusing on his own mortality and accepting that some day he will only be a memory like his own father. White does not drown his reader with sentimentality but reminisces about the past and revels in the present time with his son.