Childhood is a time of joy for many but it is also a time that can lend itself to tragedy. In our earliest years we are more vulnerable to change, more affected by it. This is not to say that events can change the life of an adult. In Ray Bradbury’s The Lake, the reader is given a first person account of two defining moments in a man’s life. These two moments are separated by decades but both return the protagonist, Harold, to a place not only of childhood but also solitude. Through the first person point of view, the reader is being told the story as if it is a confession or a journal, the effect is the story’s bleak tone.
Perhaps it is when Harold admits, “ The days were happy. I thought I loved Margaret [ his wife ] well. At least I thought I did.” (124) the reader most feels as if they are lending an ear to a desperate stranger. Bradbury uses the first person view to persuade the reader to empathize with Harold. It is as if there is a man at a bar, talking about his life, he wouldn’t just come out and tell you exactly how he felt because either he wasn’t sure himself or he was only half talking to you, half to himself. Earlier in the story Harold breaks from his usual first person story telling and speaks in what at first seems like second person but is actually revealed to be more in the infinitive, more just musing. When Harold gets away from his mother and wades out into the lake, calling out for his childhood friend, he breaks, “You really expect answers to your calling when you are young. You feel that whatever you may think can be real. And sometimes maybe that is not so wrong.” (121). This is the only time in the story that the narrative is broken, instead of removing the reader from the story it has the opposite effect. The narrator who is the protagonist is all the more life like for it. Because Harold is telling us the story, all these devices Bradbury uses to make the storyteller more real serves to make the story more real to us as well.
The story’s somber tone and first person point of view not only creates a person, but a vivid picture of childhood in general, how it is often hard and misunderstood. We all carry baggage, there is no telling what events a child will take with him into adulthood. Harold clearly has taken this moment by himself, right before leaving the East and upon returning he is brought back right to that moment, as if he never left. “I almost saw Mama sitting on the sand as she used to sit.” Harold tells us, upon arrival he is brought back to childhood, calling his mother Mama. If we readers were simply told this in the third person, like hearing about a friend of a friend, we would be further removed and we might not be able to infer or appreciate Harold’s feelings or the grander picture Bradbury paints.
By the end of the story Harold sees his wife as a “strange woman” and we are left to infer what this means. Has he finally got closure on the life he once lost, now seeing Margaret as a new man, a new adult? Has he realized that his marriage is a sham, that he only ever loved Tally? On the final page Harold claims he will “love her forever”, but the reader does not know if his love is exclusively for Tally or is it to be shared not that this is realized? It can be said that Bradbury’s The Lake raises more questions about the life of the narrator than it answers. It is Bradbury’s skill with the first person that allows him to create a character that is true to life and easy to sympathize with. The story does not answer all a reader’s questions, but when given a confession in such a desperate tone we are satisfied with such a candid glimpse into a stranger’s life.
Source: The Stories of Ray Bradbury