Once More To The Lake Critical Essay

E.B. White’s essay Once More to the Lake, first published in 1941, describes his experience as he revisits a childhood lake in Maine. 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.

Once More to the Lake is a depiction of E. B. White’s experience as he visits a lake once again – the lake that he has been fond of since childhood.

White’s experience brings him at 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 it 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 the 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, a White continues his story, it is indicated that he has a liking for old engines. This liking started from his childhood. Thus, even though he first views technology as something disruptive, there is also 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 ever little thing changes. However, there are some things that do not change, such as the thought of a person, the feelings towards 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 switches 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 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.


  • White, E. B. (1941). Once More to the Lake  [Opens in New Window].
  • White, E. B., & Wilde, O. (2008). Essays of EB White. Harper & Row.

E.B. White

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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.


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