Reflection on Childhood Memories in once More to the Lake

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I read an essay called Once more to the lake by, Elwyn Brooks White. It is a reflective piece on the power of memory and the chill of mortality. He writes about himself suffering from an identity crisis as he revisits a lake that he had gone with his father a generation earlier, with now his son to discover that his life has lost placidity as his recalls his childhood memories.

I found the piece very interesting as it is a simple story demonstrating the timeless themes of aging, death and the passage of time yet it is able to make us question the human life cycle and the idea of growing up. He provides the recount in a unique, non-chronological way as he varies with the aspects of past and present, following the flow of his thoughts and mental processes which I found was an intriguing way of telling a story. He is viewing the lake as it is but uses his childhood eyes to perceive the lake which I thought creates an interesting departure from reality into what he wants to see based on his childhood memories.

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The main idea that his experience brings while staring at the virtually unchanged lake is that some things in life do not really change in spite of the changes around it. He highlights the permanence of something things, or at least the memory of it, despite the continual change or cycle that happens in the natural world.

It is written in the form of a narrative essay. I feel like White uses this form very effectively to explore an issue that is very close to himself. I also feel like by applying this to Aldous Huxley’s statement that “The most richly satisfying essays are those which make the best not of one, not of two, but of all the three worlds…” that is the personal, objective and abstract universal,” it shows his effective use of this form. The essay is an autobiography and very personally drawing as it is inspired by first-hand experiences of his thoughts and emotions while visiting this lake. This further becomes genuine by its concrete and sophisticated language. White’s uses this type of language to establish the “objective and factual” pole. The end of the essay when White contemplates and comes to an acceptance that his childhood is indeed the past and he will eventually reach the end of the human cycle ties in with the last pole, which is an understanding to support a universal truth. All of these elements combine to what I feel makes a very strong essay which is engaging for the audience and heightens the meaning of the passing of time.

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. I felt dizzy and didn’t know which rod I was at the end of.

In the first passage, we get an insight into the themes of the essay. His word choices of dizzy and memory and the phrase “there had been no years” reinforce White’s refusal to accept that he is the father, not the son, demonstrating the theme of internal conflict where he yearns to relive his adolescence.

“When the others went swimming my son said he was going in too … 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”.

These last few lines of the essay combines the writer’s struggle to accept time and death in an emotional almost depressing confession. The point wasn’t that the lake had or hadn’t changed – it was that White had changed. When White watched his son pull up his shorts, he realized that he could no longer dwell on the past and pretend that it was himself in his son’s shoes. Instead, he realized he cannot escape his own death.

The essay from the use of first person and through the eyes and voice of the author is one that is emotive and very personal. It is not expressed in a formal tone but one that is sincere and, in some parts, solemn as we witness his internal conflict through his change in emotions.

I am thinking of writing a narrative essay, about the consequences of child abuse and that these consequences are not just left behind when they grow up, but how with time, the effects of these experiences unconsciously changes their view of the world and ultimately questions the importance of youth and memories. I haven’t read a lot of narrative essays, but I find them a lot more interesting than other types of essays and this piece showed me how I can effectively incorporate a personal story while making a point.   

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