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The white heron can symbolize many things, depending on what you think the theme of the story is. It could be good versus evil, nature versus mankind, flesh versus spirit, innocence versus experience. In all of those, the Heron represents the antithesis of the hunter. Personally,i think the heron represents all of nature. People (i.e. Sylvia) can either choose to betray it or honor it.
The heron symbolizes freedom. We all want to be freer than we are, no matter how free we think we are. This means we all want to fly high and soar above the complexities of existence here on earth and achieve a greater understanding of our own heart and mind. When Sylvia climbs the pine tree and sees the heron, she is symbolically climbing out of her mundane and ordinary routine on earth and looking further and deeper. The sea is the world beyond. The tree is the hard work required to see that world. The heron is the way to be and the way to get there. To fly free and to grow, because Sylvia is growing up. The heron lets her realize it in a brand new way. Sylvia identifies with that magnificent bird.
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