Sarah Orne Jewett's A White Heron - A Story of True Love

A White Heron - A Story of True Love

Sarah Orne Jewett’s short story A White Heron tells the tale of a young girl named Sylvia who lives a modest life with her grandmother. Sylvia expresses a deep love for nature, but not till her love in challenged by a strange young man does Sylvia truly in the story through Jewett’s detailed depiction of Sylvia’s profound connection with the woods around her. Through Jewett’s use of imagery she bonds readers to the tail of a girl’s selfless sacrifice to save the love of her life.

When first introduced to Sylvia readers come to learn that she is relatively alone with her grandmother, in a heavily wooded area. “The child had no playmates” and finds comfort in the company the woods offers. Jewett describes Sylvia relationship with nature as her being “a part of the gray shadows and the moving leaves”. Sylvia hears a stranger’s whistle cut the air with a sense of determination and is fearful of the unknown, “not a bird’s whistle, which would have a sort of friendliness”, Sylvia hides from the young man. While the young man does scare Sylvia at first she begins to find him intriguing “she had never seen anybody so charming and delightful; the woman’s heart, asleep in the child, was vaguely thrilled by a dream of love.” Jewett makes Sylvia’s love for the woods, and this young boy very obvious and thus readers understand why Sylvia faces such an internal conflict choosing one over the other.

The young man is hunting a white heron to kill and stuff for his collection, a rare and extremely majestic bird to the woods. Though Sylvia likes the young man she is does not understand why he “killed the very birds he seemed to like so much”. Sylvia has seen a white heron and decides to find its exact location by climbing the tallest tree in the woods to hopefully gain some knowledge of its whereabouts. It is Sylvia’s climb up the tree that Jewett uses the power of imagery to bond readers, Sylvia and a white heron all in the experience of the morning sunrise; Where was the white heron's nest in the sea of green branches, and was this wonderful sight and pageant of the world the only reward for having climbed to such a giddy height? Now look down again, Sylvia, where the green marsh is set among the shining birches and dark hemlocks; there where you saw the white heron once you will see him again; look, look! Jewett lets readers become apart of the experience as well, and feel the true attachment Sylvia finds with the bird. Sylvia sees some of herself in this rare, misunderstood heron, far from its original home, and it is because of this connection that she can not turn the heron’s location into the appealing young man.

Sylvia is faced with a great deal of guilt, “when the great world for the first time puts out a hand to her, must she thrust it aside for a bird's sake”. Sylvia makes the decision to protect an innocent heron, instead of gaining the approval of the young man she has grown fond of. Making the only judgment her heart would let her Sylvia is now attached to the woods more than before, and the guilt she faced from denying the young man what he wanted, is nothing compared to the guilt she would have faced for turning in her true love. The struggle Jewett depicts is easily related in every person. People have an unexplainable connection to nature, and Jewett’s emphasis of Sylvia’s bond helps readers see how noble this young girl is for standing up for nature in a way many people have trouble with. As I have always wanted to give back to the world Sylvia sacrifice is inspiring. Nature is a gift and those people who take it for granted are the ones that are denying themselves this possible love for the world around them.

The bond Sylvia feels with nature is a connection that is deeply relatable through Jewett’s imagery and ability to engage readers in the story offers a timeless lesson of following ones heart. Sylvia finds the treasures that were lost by her decision, are minute compared to the treasures of nature. The experience of the dawn bonds Sylvia with the heron and provides her with the strength to stay loyal to her true love, the woods.

Work Cited:
Jewett, Sarah Orne. "A White Heron." The Norton Anthology of American Literature. Volume C. Seventh Edition. Ed. Nina Baym. New York: Norton, 2007.