Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
In “A White Heron,” Jewett presents her readers with a series of conflicting values, all of which may be included under the theme of the country versus the city. By having Sylvia choose nature over civilization, Jewett clearly indicates her own preference while she also acknowledges the cost of making that choice.
Jewett’s comparison of Sylvia to the “wretched dry geranium that belonged to a town neighbor” is instructive, for Sylvia thrives, as would the geranium, on being transplanted from town to country. When she first meets the hunter, Sylvia hangs her head “as if the stem of it were broken.” Clearly, Jewett means to suggest that Sylvia is indeed a flower, a part of nature. She not only is accepted by the wild animals but also feels “as if she were a part of the gray shadows and the moving leaves.” Sylvia’s ties to nature are also reflected in Jewett’s description of her bare feet and fingers, which are like “bird’s claws,” a simile that identifies her with birds and helps explain her decision to save the white heron.
The hunter who pursues the white heron is from the city and is therefore tainted by civilization. In fact, like the “great red-faced boy,” he represents a threat to Sylvia: He may not physically harm her, but he can corrupt her by enticing her to “sell out” nature by taking money for information. Jewett does not condemn the hunter for hunting in itself; Mrs. Tilley obviously understands that hunting produces game birds (“pa’tridges,” for example) to be eaten in order to survive. On the other hand, hunting all kinds of birds...
(The entire section is 660 words.)
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