I enjoyed reading the short story “A White Heron” by Sarah Orne Jewett. As I read this story I could actually picture the scenes in which Sylvia was describing. This short story is a narrative that suggests the struggle between two sets of values, nature and industrial. The main character, Sylvia, is represented by nature. The young hunter is represented by industrial. Sylvia, a young girl, who has moved from an industrial environment to a rural setting on a farm. This was a great change for Sylvia and she enjoyed living on the farm and experiencing nature all around her. She had tried to grow for eight years in a crowded manufacturing town. Sylvia becomes alive in nature because she learns to respect the natural forces of the land. The young hunter seems inconsiderate of nature. His world becomes an irony because its industrial values seem to kill the things it proposes to love. His values represent a practical and emotionally detachment from the world.
I believe that the significance of this story is to give us a crucial and empathic view of nature and the dangers of industrial values that an industrial society can place upon it. Jewett seems to favor nature over industrial throughout this short story. The hunter’s desire of collecting and preserving birds threatens Sylvia because she loves the things of nature and he only wants to kill them and stuff them. It seems as though Jewett encourages her readers to protect nature, cherish our values and rights, and resist temptations of other influences that can pull us to destroy nature. The hunter’s beliefs show that his industrial world is strong on collecting and developing untamed forces, particularly the heron.
Symbolism is used greatly in this short story. I see the white heron representing the purity of rural life. The tall tree that Sylvia climbs in the forest symbolizes clarity of thought. She can think high in the tree without having everything and everyone pressuring her. Sylvia sees all from her elevated branch and from this branch she realizes that the heron's life is more valuable than $10. The geranium that stands out in the city setting symbolizes Sylvia as someone who belongs in nature. It also represents the suffocating nature of the city in comparison to the farm (Lorcher). The name Sylvia comes from the same root as sylvan, which is a spirit that frequents or lives in the woods (Lorcher). The hunter represents the interference of civilization and technology which is a common element of Romanticism. There is an internal conflict that focuses on Sylvia’s battle of whether or not to reveal the location of the white heron and his nest. I also saw an external conflict from the story’s rural setting being set up against the urban setting from which the hunter comes from. Throughout the entire story all the characters are female such as Sylvia, the grandmother, and the cow which are all living a peaceful rural life until they are interrupted by the young male hunter. Romanticism and Realism is revealed throughout this short story. Romantic ideals are shared through the importance of nature and the individual. Realism is shown through the stories style, use of details, realistic setting, and the realistic people (Lorcher). Even though this story was written long before the environmental movement had taken hold, it still embraces environmentalist ideas (Lorcher). “A White Heron” expresses Romantic ideals of nature and individualism (Lorcher).
After reading this short story I believe that I will look at nature differently now. I have always been an animal lover. Reading about someone who is so passionate about birds though is very unusual. I have never seen or heard of a white heron. Where I live we have seen a blue heron and we usually see it near a small creek or stream. This is a very pretty bird and now it is illegal to kill them. I have seen one pretty close up and they are huge especially when they spread their wings. If people continue to kill them they will become extinct. I have only seen one blue heron around my house but you do not see him all the time. What a great story to read about nature that this was. Reading anything about animals interests me.