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Once More to the Lake by E. B. White
This descriptive essay by White is about his detailed memories of a lake and its surroundings and his later experiences there with his son. The passage is most interesting for the vivid description of the environment in which it takes place and also the emotions that White feels throughout the story. I found it most intriguing that White began to feel as if he was losing his identity because his memories of the lake were causing him to identify with his son rather than with him self. Why do you think White ended the account by saying that as he watched his son putting on his swimsuit he "felt the chill of death?" What do you think this means?
While describing his memories of the lake, White makes a special mention of outboard motors as the only thing that ruins the memory, breaks the illusion of reliving his childhood dreams. Do they have any significance to this story? If so, then why are they significant and what do you think the motors represent? If not, then why not?
Rhetorical Devices and Strategies:
A cumulative sentence is a sentence that begins with a main clause (this could stand by itself as a complete sentence) and is followed by more information. This allows White to give more detail to the piece as well as giving a shared feeling of nostalgia, readers should think of this as more like a thought or a memory than a descriptive essay.
ex. "I guess I remembered clearest of all the early mornings, when the lake was cool and motionless, remembered how the bedroom smelled of the lumber it was made of and of the wet woods whose scent entered through the screen."
White employs this cumulative sentence in order to to enhance his feeling of nostalgia toward the lake. The building sence that this sentence gives is similar to the authors memories, which begin with a thought (the main clause) and build as he begins to remember more and more about his past (more information). As is seen in this sentence, the author begins by remembering the early mornings, and then more detail becomes clear as his thought process brings back clearer memories of the mornings at the lake.
"We caught two bass, hauling them in briskly as though they were mackerel, pulling them over the side of the boat in bussinesslike manner without any landing net, and stunning them with a blow on the back of the head."
This is a textbook example of a cumulative sentence, it has a main clause (
"We caught two bass..."
) and then an array of details that follow. This sentence in particular describes White's fishing excursion with his son. This sentence mainly adds to his strange feeling that he was his father and his son was him in turn. It also adds to a sentence that would be otherwise extremely bland.
Use of the dash
: Is used to to add information to the clause it follows. Information following a dash might include definitions, appositives, alerts and contrasts.
"I wondered how time would have marred this unique, this holy spot--the coves and streams, the hills that the sun set behind, the camps and the paths behind the camps."
Take this quote for example. The dash heightens the emphasis of the "holy spot", allowing White to add descriptive elements. Without it the reader is left wondering why the spot is so significant. With the dash, however, the author is giving the reader a chance to paint a picture in his mind of what was 'holy' to him. Its as iff a deffiniton is given of the "holy spot".
"There had been no years between the ducking of this dragonfly and the other one--the one that was part of memory."
This quote clarifies the author's thoughts regarding the dragonfly. Without this dash the reader is unsure to what " the other one" is. Therefore the information was necessary to understand this flashback of the dragonfly. Once again, the dash is often used to clarify any questions that the reader may have.
" After breakfast we would go up to the store and the things were in the same place- the minnows ina bottle, the plugs and spinners disarranged and pawed over by the youngsters from the boyscamp, the fig Newtons and the Beemans gum."
This quote agian uses a dash to further clarify what the author is talking about, in this case its the store. I think that the overall reason for the use of so many dashes in this essay, is because the author is thinking of the past, and needs to describe extra details for the reader to fully understand his message. It also adds a conversation feel to the essay, in which brings out an intimate feel. Dashes are not usually used in formal writing peices, because dashes seem to get the writing a little off topic, as it goes into more detail of a certain object.
Primarily the whole short story is a flashback. The first sentence sets the reader up for this fact by stating, "One summer...” this simple sentence starter sets the tense for the entire story. In the 2nd paragraph the author speaks about the strangeness of memories. He is telling how he remembers some things in a way that feels to the reader as they too are piecing together great memories of their past.
Once the author gets into the "meat" of the story the flashback becomes almost eerie. As the narrator is explaining the vacation he points out many times his confusion of the past and present. At some points this made since, for example the feeling that time had not touched the lake, that everything appeared the same. Yet when explaining the sensation of feeling youthful in his childhood vacation, the author made it seem very uncomfortable. At first the narrator states the sensation of feeling like his father, which I have been told is a fairly normal occurrence. As the story progressed though he then felt that he was the son. Making very awkward comments that he could not tell for example which fishing pole he was holding because he felt so much like he was his son.
In this short story memories are the base of the entire thing, these examples are the main parts that display this to the reader.
Juxtaposition and contrast:
White uses juxtaposition to create a quick contrasting image which resounds in the reader's mind and, in a way, startles the reader. Especially the passage "We caught two bass, hauling them in briskly as though they were mackerel, pulling them over the side of the boat in a businesslike manner without any landing net, and
stunning them with a blow on the back of the head
. When we got back for
a swim before lunch
, the lake was..." The quick contrast between "a blow on the back of the head", and "a swim before lunch" creates a startling contrast between a frightening physical attack on a fish and a relaxing swim with a son, quickly grabbing the reader's attention and helping to intensify the overall impact of the passage.
More examples of juxtaposition: Throughout the story, White contrasts the idea of the beauty and purity of nature with human development, technology, and its disruptive and almost sacrilegious effect. An example is when he says, "I wondered how time would have marred this. . .holy spot. I was sure the tarred road would have found it out, and I wondered in what other ways it would be desolated." This and also the descriptions of the serene lake beside cottages and the unpleasant sound of the new motor boats argue that nature should be left to its own devices whenever possible and not disturbed by such intrusions. Also, White places the past and the present side-by-side throughout the story, merging events almost to the point of confusion. This contrasts the way things were when the narrator was a child and the way things currently are, unless time is in fact an illusion. A final example of juxtaposition is when White describes a thunderstorm over the lake, contrasting its previous tranquility to its capabilities of tempestuousness.
Used to enhance a literary work through word pictures to engage the reader further.
In this essay, White uses figurative language to enhance, in particular, the lake and what it represents. Throughout the entire essay, White uses a strictly denotative style of writing, yet when it comes to describing the author's lake, he implements many different examples of figurative language in order to make the lake "pop" out of the essay, so to speak. For example:
"Then the kettle drum, then the snare, then the bass drum and cymbals, then crackling light against the dark, and the gods grinning and licking their chops in the hills."
In this excerpt, White uses metaphor to accentuate the musicality of the storm to deter from the customary "dark and stormy night". Instead the storm on the lake is a symphony of sorts, adding to the ambiance of the lake and the memories there.
"... for fear of disturbing the stillness of the cathedral."
In this quote, White captures the narrator's reverence toward the lake through yet another metaphor, illustrating it not as a wild primitive lake, but as a holy place close to "the gods" from the first excerpt.
Point of View and Tone:
The repetition of conjunctions in close succession.
White repeatedly uses this device to create the effect of "drifting", which is consistent with the nostalgic tone of the essay. By repeating "and" between objects in his memory, he links them without pause, much the way the mind in the act of memory seamlessly links impressions.The repetition of "and" also creates the rhythmic effects of a chant, giving his descriptions a solemn quality. This effect is consistent with the dominant subjective impression of lake's holiness. The use of polysyndeton is particularly effective in the famous "Summertime" passage where White seems to be singing a hymn to the season:
"The cottagers with their innocent and tranquil design, their tiny docks with the flagpole and the American flag floating against the white clouds in the blue sky, the little paths over the roots of the trees leading from camp to camp
the paths leading back to the outhouses
the can of lime for sprinkling,
at the souvenir counters at the store the miniature birch-bark canoes
the post cards that showed things looking a little better than they looked."
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