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“Once More to the Lake” by E.B. White Essay

1.In paragraphs two, ten, and twelve of “Once More to the Lake,” White’s brilliant use of metaphors, similes, and personification illustrates a lucid image of the speaker’s intertwining past and present for the reader. White starts paragraph ten with a fragment, “Peace and goodness and jollity,” and creates a great emphasis on his past and current feelings. He continues to illustrate his past memories with a personification of the vocal senses as he explains the sound of the motorboats; “the one-lungers throbbed and fluttered, and the twin-cylinder ones purred and purred, and that was a quiet sound too.” He then compares this beautiful memory of the past to his current experience of the outboard powerboats, and exclaims, “These motors … whined about one’s ears like mosquitoes.”

This contrasting simile outlines the speaker’s transition from one point of time to another within his illusion. He continues to use a metaphor to describe the behavior of the old boats, and explains, “The boat would leap ahead, charging bull-fashion at the dock.” After a thunderstorm passes, White describes his son as he is entering the water; “As he buckled the swollen belt suddenly my groin felt the chill of death.” The “chill of death” is a metaphor for the truth White finds himself a part of, even though he is experiencing both his past and present.

He realizes that the life course that leads to death starts with birth, and that his son’s maturity also means that the end of White is approaching. This, along with his allusion between past and present, allow White to develop his universal truth within his text. At first, while his illusion from the similar shape of the outdoors gives the false perception that time has not past, his pinpointing of the different identities of the son and father serves as testimony that the cycle from birth to death is universal.

2.In “Once More to the Lake,” White utilizes connotative words and phrases to establish the illusion that is the connection between childhood and adulthood. In his return to the lake, many years after his childhood, White confronts multiple changes as he struggles with the illusion that the peaceful world of his childhood, and his present existence within it, remain the same. In paragraph one, White describes the things that remind him of past memories with the words, “Restlessness of the tides and the fearful cold of the sea water and the incessant wind.” These words all have negative connotations, and let the reader know that the speaker’s present experiences make him wish to go back “to revisit old haunts.”

These words and their negative connotations are crucial to the nature of the illusion the speaker is describing. It provides the pretext of why he wishes for memories of his past. White says, while fishing with his son; “I looked at the boy who was silently watching his fly, and it was my hands that held his rod, my eyes watching. I felt dizzy and didn’t know which rod I was at the end of.” These connotative words allow White to establish a connection between young and old, past and present, then and now. These linked ideas blur the line between birth and death, and serve to establish the truth that the cycle from creation and mortality is universal.

3.White employs many descriptive details throughout his story. He creates contrasting symbols, almost placed as an antithesis, to illustrate his realization of age, and the universality of life to death. Taking his son fishing is the event that convinces him “beyond any doubt that everything was as it always had been, that the years were a mirage and that there had been no years.” A dragonfly that lands on the tip of his son’s fishing rod ignites this feeling that the two, both son and father, are the same individual. When he lowered the tip of his rod “into the water, tentatively, pensively dislodging the fly, which darted two feet away, poised, darted two feet back, and came to rest again a little farther up the rod,” he asserts that “there had been no years between the ducking of this dragonfly and the other one – the one that was part of memory.”

Here, White’s language has bulls-eye precision, and the dragon fly is transformed into a representation of the continuous cycle of life and death. The present mixing with his past experience is again validated with details of the lake that “had never been what you would call a wild lake.” It is a calm, tranquil, and bounded place where youth is apparent. Here, the lake represents the familiarity of one’s past. This description is contrasted with the sea, as it comes right after the description of the endless body of water. The sea has the remnant memories of “restlessness of the tides and the fearful cold of the sea water and the incessant wind.” The sea symbolizes the harshness of aging, while the lake symbolizes the familiarity and safety of youth and the past.


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