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Sarah Orne Jewett’s stories are generally classified as local color writing. These texts describe the settings and events of a particular age and place – in Jewett’s case, Maine in the 1880’s. Her work has also been said to have elements of regionalism, and Jewett’s own intentions that her work was to be a catalogue of social history which would endure, certainly indicates that this was part of the intent of her writing.
The story, “A White Heron” also has leanings towards a Romantic ideal, as the gently nymph Sylvia turns her back on the worldly stranger and chooses to protect the habitat of the heron rather than receive payment from the eager hunter. Sylvia becomes part of the environment as she climbs the tree to locate the elusive heron’s nest-
with her bare feet and fingers that inched and held like bird’s claws to the monstrous ladder.
Jewett was influenced by the writers of the Romanic period – Willam and Dorothy Wordsworth in particular. However, her writing is as much involved with defining social conscience and behaviors than placing humanity within the natural world.
Local color was a slightly patronizing term which indicated writing which had little depth. The genre is becoming more understood and appreciated in recent years, and the merits of local color writing are more valued of an exploration of fiction, particularly from women writers of the time.
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