White tells his story under the auspices that it is merely a recollection of the time he spent at a camp. However, in actuality, the camp itself is merely a catalyst for the feelings that White is having about himself.
This is evident from early on in the essay, when White begins to feel as though he and his son have switched roles. When speaking of this feeling, White says, “I began to sustain the illusion that he was I, and therefore, by simple transposition, that I was my father.” He continues to say that this feeling stayed with him the entire time that they were at the lake, and that though he had felt it before, being there magnified the emotion. This is due to the fact that the last time he visited this place, he was a child, much like his son. Now, many years have passed, and being at the lake is a harsh reminder of that fact. He makes constant reference to the way in which the lake has stayed the same, and he expects that he too will have stayed the same. It is extremely disheartening for him to learn that this is not the case. Nothing is more of a reminder of this fact than his son. By going through the same things that his father went through, he is unknowingly showing White that he is merely a part of the cycle of generations. He has stepped into the role that White once played, and White has stepped into his father’s role.
In addition to this realization, White is forced to come to terms with another harsh reality. If it is true that life moves in a constant cycle, in which the generations take over for one another, then it is also true that one day his spot will be taken. In other words, by moving up one rung on the ladder of life, White is also moving one step closer to death. One example of this is seen when White and his son are returning from their fishing excursion, and are walking along a dirt road. White claims that this road used to have three tracks, but now it has been cut down to two. This is symbolic of the fact that he used to have many options to choose from in life, but as the years progressed, these options became less and less. Now, as an older man, there are certain things which he cannot do anymore, and he is only left with two tracks. Along with this example, his son also plays a large part in his realization of his own mortality. At the end of his essay, White recalls watching his son go swimming in the lake by saying, “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 icy chill of death.” White is once again identifying with his son. At this point, he feels so at one with his son that he can actually feel what he is feeling. However, he is experiencing it in a different way. His son is merely feeling a chilly sensation in his groin, but he is feeling an icy reminder that he will not live forever. His days of going swimming in the lake are gone, and his sons are just beginning.