What are the themes of "A White Heron"?


Quick Answer

Sarah Orne Jewett, in her book "A White Heron," explores the responsibilities people have toward nature and considers if relationships with people are more important than relationships with animals. She also explores the idea of co-existing with animals and the changes caused by the Industrial Revolution.

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Full Answer

After moving from a manufacturing town to a farm in the woods of New England, the main character Sylvia realizes she can reinvent herself. Though tasked to work the farm with her grandmother, she also spends time alone in the woods, where she encounters, and in many ways befriends, the titular white heron. The white bird symbolizes freedom, which Sylvia didn't have until she moved in with her grandmother. Sylvia climbed trees to get a bird's eye view of her home and the surrounding land, symbolizing an attempt to become one with nature.

Sylvia meets a young hunter, and while she feels an attraction for and toward him, she decides not to tell him where the heron's nest is. She refuses to tell, even when he offers her more money than she and her grandmother could ever otherwise earn. Still, Sylvia doesn't tell him where to find the white heron, convinced that doing so would end the bird's life, and in many ways bring an end to the idyllic life she has created since moving in with her grandmother.

The stirrings Sylvia feels for the young hunter are nothing compared to how she feels about the bird. In many ways, this story is a romance, though one between a young woman and nature rather than between a young woman and a man.

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