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A White Heron
Sarah Orne Jewett's "A White Heron" is a brilliant story of an inquisitive young girl named Sylvia. Jewett's narrative describes Sylvia's experiences within the mystical and inviting woods of New England. I believe a central theme in "A White Heron" is the dramatization of the clash between two competing sets of values in late nineteenth-century America: industrial and rural. We can follow her through the story to help us see many industrial and rural differences. Inevitably, I expect that we are encouraged to favor Sylvia's rural environment and values over the industrial ones. Our first introduction to these competing sets of values begins when we meet Sylvia.

She is a young girl from a crowded manufacturing town who has recently come to stay with her grandmother on a farm. We see Sylvia's move from the industrial world to a rural one as a beneficial change for the girl, especially from the passage, "Everybody said that it was a good change for a little maid who had tried to grow for eight years in a crowded manufacturing town, but, as for Sylvia herself, it seemed as if she never had been alive at all before she came to live at the farm" (Jewett 27). Most visibly, Sylvia becomes so alive in the rural world that she begins to think compassionately about her neighbor's geraniums and we begin to see that Sylvia s values are strikingly different from the industrial and materialistic notions of controlling nature (Smith 39). Another example of the clash between industrial and rural values comes from Sylvia's own memories and recollections. Sylvia has been on the farm for a year now, but she still thinks about when she lived in an urban area. She wonders if everything is still carrying on in the same way as when she lived in the town.

Sylvia recalls her adolescent adversary: the great-red faced boy. I think the great-red faced boy represents the industrial world to some degree because he frightens Sylvia, and when she thinks of him she wants to escape to the safety of the bushes. Thus, the rural world and nature are a sanctuary from the industrial world for Sylvia. This is supported in the line: "The thought of the great-red face boy who used to chase and frighten her made her hurry along the path to escape from the shadows of the trees" (Jewett 28). Again, it is important to consider the woods as a shelter for Sylvia (Renza 51).

Yet, at this point in the narrative, I still perceive Sylvia as a fearful and timid girl. Mrs. Tilley, Sylvia's grandmother supports this perception by saying that Sylvia is "Afraid of folks" (Jewett 27). Additionally, this passage seems to show us that late nineteenth century notions of female vulnerability, modesty, and passivity confine Sylvia. However, on the farm Sylvia is now free to explore and stray about outdoors. As a result of her life on the farm, we can see many examples of Sylvia's gradual escape from the constraints of the industrial world's value system. Moreover, we begin to accept Sylvia as a genuine "little woods-girl" (Jewett 28). Sylvia wants to protect the natural world and its values, serenity, and animals against the industrial outsiders.

The presence of the hunter symbolizes the industrial outsider because his presence creates an interesting conflict between Sylvia's loyalty for nature and her desires for love and money. Still, to help us understand Sylvia's conflicting emotions, we must further appreciate the differences between the industrial and rural world. This is achieved by the quality of the industrial and rural world's descriptions. Upon reading about the rural farm, we learn that the air is "soft and sweet" while the industrial town is described as "noisy" and "crowded" (Jewett 28). We also get to see more clashes between the industrial and rural world when we read about the description of the hunter's whistle as "determined and somewhat aggressive" (Jewett 28). I believe his whistle is symbolic because it is unlike a friendly bird's whistle, and by offering us the differences between the two whistles, we learn that the natural world appeals more to Sylvia's emotions and sensitivities than the industrial one and its manufactured devices. While Sylvia may consider the bird's whistle as unfriendly and an invasion of her natural world, she also seems intimidated by the hunter. His values represent a scientific and...
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A White Heron. EssayMania.com. Retrieved on 12 Oct, 2010 from