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Analysis of A White Heron Essay


From the very first steps of the new settlers on the American continent, its uncivilized nature, full of smell of the forests, of freshness of the air, and of almost desolate variety of flowers and trees, came to be associated with unlimited wilderness. However, under the vigorous attack of developing civilization the untouched virginity of the New World soon began to recede, irretrievably losing its wild independent beauty. The short story of an American writer Sarah Orne Jewett, A White Heron, is one of the works written on this touching American theme. In this story the author presents the conflict by contrasting a little country-girl Sylvia, who lives in harmony with nature, to the bird-hunter from a town. She does so through identification of a girl with nature and boys with civilization. While the girl stands for the innocent femininity of natural world, who loves and cares about the creatures around, the boys are associated with aggression, danger and warlike elements of civilization. Thus she implies the idea that nature is just like a harmless little girl just exists in peace with every tiny thing around, while civilization, like a young man with a gun, by its utilitarian love for nature senselessly annihilates the artless creation.

From the opening lines of the story A White Heron ushers her readers into the magic world of untouched beauty of the New England wilderness. It is a warm June evening on the main coast as the sun begins to set. The reader is immediately charmed and has no choice but to proceed, to walk further, among the trees, until he meets a little girl, walking by the forest path together with her dawdling friend, a cow by the name of Mistress Moolly. It is not by a chance that both the cow and the girl are noticeably well acquainted with the woods around them, she writes that their feet are so much familiar with the path they walk by that it is no matter whether their eyes [can] see it or not(Jewett 1142). Thus it is clear that the friends are an integral part of this charming country wilderness.

Their existence is beautifully harmonic and on the almost fairy background of gray shadows and moving leaves they pass through the magic forest, full of little birds and beasts... going around... (Jewett 1143). Sylvia, who before her coming to the country lived in a crowded manufacturing town, compares it to the satisfaction of living heart to heart with nature, she feels that she would never want to go back home. She even senses as if her life was meaningless and unfulfilled never experiencing the grace and beauty of all that surrounds her, before she mingled with the natural world. It is also important to note that as a female she is identical with Nature, which in the American literature is usually spelled with a capital and referred to as feminine the prime example of this is the referral to Mother Nature. It is as well said to be wild or, in other words, untouched. Thus it becomes obvious that the girl, as a part of the natural world, and possessing the identical with nature femininity and innocence is perfectly integrated into the artless system. This way she may be easily identified with nature exemplifying both entities as one.

At the same time the boys in the story are shown as a threat to the innocence and beauty of nature. For the first time the young hunter is introduced to the readers by his whistle, which may be heard even before he himself appears. The author meaningfully opposes this boys whistle in comparing it to that of a birds in which the tune had and underlying tone of friendliness but by describing the tone of the boy as determined and somewhat aggressive (Jewett 1143). Furthermore, when the boy finally appears on the path of the girl, he is directly referred to as an enemy which is already a much more significant and strong statement. The girl suspects the danger hidden in the boy, who is described as a young man, who has a gun slung over his shoulder. Such descriptions from the very first sight pronounce the hunter as an aggressor, walking with a gun, one of the multiple human inventions which serve subordination and destruction of nature. Another boy mentioned in the story lives in the girls urban past, in the boisterous town. He is also described in terms of danger and animosity: the great red-faced boy who used to chase and frighten her (Jewett1145). So far, it is absolutely clear that in this story the males represent the ugly manifestations of Civilization, which manifests itself as fundamental opposition to nature.

Further into the story Jewett proves this American belief by opposing the girl to the hunter, who as we said represents the two contradictory sides. The girl in description of her grandmother is loving and caring, painting a picture of strong role model who cares for all living things. At the same time, the boy is the one who comes to destroy or, in other words, to kill all living creatures that cross his path, describing his collection of birds, he proudly says that he has shot or snared everyone himself (Jewett 1146). Listening to these words, Sylvia is caught into an insoluble dilemma; she cannot understand why anyone wished to the kill the very birds that she loved so dearly. Like the young hunter, the newcomers into the wild America, had no qualms about doing harm to nature by thrusting civilization upon it. They reasoned in terms of wealth, comfort, amenities, power (Jewett 1145), the terms which are obviously utilitarian, those of the users who barely think of the damage they cause to the environment.

At the same time, the innocent little girl, who knows the satisfaction of an existence heart to heart with nature and the dumb life of the forest (Jewett 1146) cannot agree to such an utilitarian position. When the young man offers money to one who can show him where the habitation of the white heron by remarking that he would award ten dollars to whoever would show it to him, the girl, though very poor, does not sell him the birds secret. She insists on remaining silent she will no amount of money is enough to sacrifice the life of the heron, because for her every part of nature is her element, her world, and her life. She gives up all riches of the great world and the friendship of the young hunter for the sake of her Mother Nature. Thus the clash of Nature with Civilization is clearly developed throughout the story opposing little Sylvia and the hunter the author draws a kin opposition between forest and town, spontaneity and calculation, heart and head, the unconscious and the self-conscious, the innocent and the wicked.

The short story A White Heron is one of the multiple discussions of the American theme, confrontation of wild American Nature with the new-coming European civilization. Through the seemingly simple plot where a country girl and the wild birds are disturbed by the evil town boys Sarah Orne Jewett indirectly implies her discontent with the destruction of the natural world by the scientific utilitarianism. Though not offering any solution to the situation, the author achieves the bright vividness of this theme by the implication of the generally accepted American belief that the aggressive masculine figure of civilization remains a constant danger to the gentle femininity of nature. With all this, the authors attempt is to deplore the simplicity of the rosy past, the innocence of the uncivilized forests, and the beauty of friendship of humans with nature which irretrievably flow away through the greedy fingers of civilization.

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