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ONCE MORE TO THE LAKE - E. B. White (1898-1985)


Once More to the Lake, a narrative non-fiction essay written by E. B. White and first published in 1941, is a story about how the narrator, who grew up going to a lake in Maine, returns with his son when he is older. This essay is a depiction of the writer’s experience as he visits a lake once again – the lake that he has been fond of since childhood. He describes all the great memories that were made with his family at this lake, specifically mentioning the times with his father. When he arrives back at the lake, he comments on how everything has stayed the same.

The essay moves in a non-chronological way, as White weaves in and out of the past and present, following the flow of his mental process, or as what many would call stream-of-consciousness. By the essay's end, White has come full circle, accepting his own mortality. In his son's image, he no longer sees himself. He is clear that his son's maturation is a sign that White is getting closer to death.

White begins by describing his family’s first visit to the lake in 1904 when he was just five years old. Despite a few interruptions, “the vacation was a success and from then on none of [White’s family] ever thought there was any place in the world like that lake”.  Although his family’s annual visits to the lake are well in the past, White finds himself longing to go back and plans a vacation with his son. On his way to the lake, White wonders “how time would have marred” the campsite and whether “tarred road would have found it out”.  He finds that the paved road does, indeed, extend nearly all the way to the lake but is delighted to find that the campsite is more or less the same as he remembers.

This revisiting is a journey in which White delights in memories associated with his childhood and the lake. In effect, his mindset transforms to go back to his childhood. This transformation is necessary for him to find enjoyment in the journey. However, the transformation also emphasizes an altered perception of the actual lake. For instance, instead of viewing the lake as it is, he uses his childhood eyes to perceive the lake. This condition creates an interesting departure from reality into what he wants to see based on his childhood experiences. 

White’s experience brings him to the lakefront, at which he finds himself staring at the same lake, virtually unchanged. This means that White considers some things that do not really change in spite of the changes around him and the changes that White experiences in his life. White wants to emphasize the permanence of some things, or at least the memory of some things, despite the continual change that happens in the world.

Even though the lake did not change, White’s essay indicates that there are some changes in things that are separate from the lake. For instance, when White arrives at the lakefront, even though he wishes to enjoy the scene and the experience of being at the lake once again, he becomes somewhat bothered by the noise of the new boats that are on the lake. The new boats have noisier engines.

White wants to show that technology can be disruptive. Even though technology can, indeed, make things become faster and more efficient, technology can also make things noisier and more disruptive. Thus, White emphasizes the negative side of new technologies. Nonetheless, as White continues his story, it is indicated that he has a liking for old engines. This liking started in his childhood. Thus, even though he first views technology as something disruptive, there is also an emphasis on the personal perception factor, which means that White did not like the noise of the new engine and, arguably, did not like the new engine, because of the fact that he wants and expected to see boats with the old engines that he saw in the childhood.

Some things do not change. All things change on the basis of the underlying principle that nothing is constant in this world and that every little thing changes. However, there are some things that do not change, such as the thought of a person, the feelings toward other people that one has, the longing for something, and so on. Perhaps, E.B. White shows the lake is unchanged, but this may be only in his own perception. The lake could have already changed when he arrives at the lakefront as an adult, but his perception of the lake does not change. He still likes what he sees and feels.

His experience of being at the lakefront brings him back to his childhood years when he experiences the lake. Considering that White shows that his perceptions actually switch from that of an adult and that of a boy, it is arguable that his actual experience of the lake as an adult is marred (disfigured) by such switching between perceptions. Thus, it is possible that the actual lake that he revisits is already different, but his perception, as a boy, does not change, thereby making the lake virtually unchanged. Also, the technology that he refers to, in the form of the new and noisier engines, may have also been affected by such switching in his perceptions. Perhaps the new and noisier boats are not really that disruptive. It is just that he was used to the old and less noisy ones, thereby making his claims more personal and not necessarily real.

E.B White’s lake is a symbol of the role of physical spaces in personal development. For example, the essay shows that the lake serves as a setting for familial (family) interactions, especially in the author’s past. In relation, the lake serves as a venue for reflection. For instance, when White goes back to the lake, it facilitates his reflection on change and development. The lake helps him think back and develop a better understanding of his situation.

 “Once More to the Lake” also supports the idea of the necessity of permanence, to some extent, in life. Even though the lake has changed over the years, it remains a lake that the author can visit. It stands as a reminder of his childhood experiences. In this regard, the lake sheds light on the benefit of having some form or degree of permanence in life. Such permanence can help anchor the person and his psychological development.


Rosenthal, P. (2018, 08 15). Analysis of E. B. White’s “Once More to the Lake”. Retrieved from Panmore Institute:'s%20essay%20Once%20More%20to,go%20back%20to%20his%20childhood.

White, E. (2021). Once More to the Lake. In S. Lohani, Visions: A Thematic Anthology (pp. 224-233). Kathmandu: Vidyarthi Pustak Bhandar.


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