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The main character (protagonist) in "A White Heron," by Sarah Orne Jewett, is a young girl named Sylvia. She lives on a farm with her grandmother, but she has not always lived there. She came to live in the country with her grandmother because the city was shriveling her spirit.
[T]here never was such a child for straying about out-of-doors since the world was made! 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. She thought often with wistful compassion of a wretched geranium that belonged to a town neighbor.
Sylvia is a girl who loves nature and has an affinity with it. When she meets the man with a gun, the ornithologist, she is initially afraid of him but soon grows comfortable in his presence.
The man can see that this family is kind but poor and he knows the heron lives nearly, for he has seen it. He entices Sylvia to help him hunt for the heron and the enticement works, as they are very poor and ten dollars is a lot of money. She goes along with him as he hunts for the white heron he so desires; however, she does not really want the man to find it. "She grieved because the longed-for white heron was elusive, but she did not lead the guest, she only followed."
The next morning, Sylvia gets up early and walks half a mile until she gets to where, "at the farther edge of the woods, where the land was highest, a great pine-tree stood, the last of its generation." She climbs the tree, and Jewett's description makes it clear that the girl is connected to the nature that surrounds her.
Sylvia climbs the tree and sees the breath-taking heron for the the last time,
Then Sylvia, well satisfied, makes her perilous way down again, not daring to look far below the branch she stands on, ready to cry sometimes because her fingers ache and her lamed feet slip. Wondering over and over again what the stranger would say to her, and what he would think when she told him how to find his way straight to the heron's nest.
When the man asks her again where to find the white heron, however, Sylvia cannot tell him.
The murmur of the pine's green branches is in her ears, she remembers how the white heron came flying through the golden air and how they watched the sea and the morning together, and Sylvia cannot speak; she cannot tell the heron's secret and give its life away.
The crestfallen hunter continues his quest elsewhere. Later the girl wonders if the man might have been a better friend to her than the heron. but she is content to have lost earthly treasure (money) in favor of the woodlands and its inhabitants.
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