"A White Heron" details the coming of age of its 9-year-old protagonist Sylvia, who begins as a naive and trusting country girl and ends as a mature and independent young adult. Forced to choose between saving the white heron's life or keeping her first human friend, Sylvia is strong and brave enough to preserve the beauty of the natural world.
Sylvia heavily identifies with the natural world around her, specifically the birds. Despite her contentment with her simple life, she is drawn to the hunter who asks for her help and seeks out the white heron in order to win his affection. The issue is confused however as the author questions Sylvia's choice, which in a larger sense symbolizes the choice women make to become dependent on men or to forge a career for themselves. Sylvia has symbolically chosen the latter, in the process accepting all the risk, loneliness and doubt that will haunt her decision. Because of this, Sylvia can also be considered a feminist hero whose youth underscores the allegorical implications of her story. In more general terms, she is also a hero because she refuses to succumb to social pressures in order to do what she considers right, according to the Jewett Journal.