What Is the Thesis of “Once More to the Lake” by E.B. White?

“Once More to the Lake” is an essay by E.B. White describing his emotions when he returns to a childhood summer place. He had first visited the Maine camp with his own father in 1904, and he revisits in 1941 with his son. He compares the lake of his memory with the largely unchanged contemporary scene and simultaneously experiences the place through his son’s eyes and his own.

White’s essay follows the trail of memory as he and his son drive to the cabin and unload their gear, rent a motorized boat for bass fishing and dine at a local restaurant. White begins to feel as though he is the son listening to his father’s words coming out of his own mouth. He imagines that time has stood still and that a dragonfly, the bather with a bar of soap and teenagers in a steamship cruise boat are the same ones he had noticed as a child.

The essay is an exercise in duality. Is White the son or the father? Has time passed or is it frozen? It ends with White feeling the “chill of death” as he watches his son pull a soggy, cold bathing suit up around “his vitals,” a reference to his own mortality.