"A White Heron" is permeated with images of shadow, light, and woods. Cite examples of how each influences the story.

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Sarah Orne Jewett plays with imagery of shadows, woods, and light throughout "A White Heron." In the first paragraph of the story, we meet Sylvia on her errand to bring Mistress Moolly, the cow, back home for the night. The cow often plays hide and seek with Sylvia in the woods, and this game is half-fun but half-annoying to the girl. "The woods were already filled with shadows," we learn, although at the same time, traces of "a bright sunset still glimmered." Leaving the light behind, they enter the darkening woods. As Sylvia heads homeward, she feels "as if she were a part of the gray shadows and the moving leaves."

At this point, the stranger shows up, and Sylvia is surprised and confused, especially when he requests shelter. That evening, Sylvia and her grandmother chat with the stranger by moonlight, and they learn he kills and mounts rare birds. Sylvia is evidently ambivalent or unsure of the stranger, for she doesn't offer what she knows about the bird he's looking for.

As Sylvia spends the day in the woods with the hunter, her confusion continues. She finds him strangely appealing, because her incipient romantic heart "was vaguely thrilled by a dream of love." Yet she "would have liked him vastly better without his gun."

Sylvia doesn't lead the hunter to the "open place where the sunshine always seemed strangely yellow and hot"—the place she had seen the heron. But in the predawn light, she climbs the tall pine tree from which she knows she'll be able to spot the bird again. As she climbs in the dim light, scratching herself on the trees of the woods, she faces the "angry talons" of the pine that nevertheless "must have loved his new dependent." The contradictions continue with the descriptions of the shadowy woods.

When she reaches the top of the pine, light imagery breaks through the imagery of woods and shadows. Her "face was like a pale star" as she stares over the sea, where the "dawning sun [was] making a golden dazzle." The sun comes up "bewilderingly bright." But this is an ironic description, because suddenly all becomes clear to Sylvia, and the confusion and ambivalence of the shadows and woods fly away. She and the heron perched on neighboring branches are two of a kind, and her loyalty belongs clearly to her natural compatriot, not to the young man after all.

Jewett associates the woods and shadows with confusion and ambivalence, while she describes the scenes involving the heron primarily with light. In doing so, she convinces readers that Sylvia's decision was the clear, pure, and enlightened choice.

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Two references to shadow occur early in the story, prior to the arrival of the stranger, and they seem to foreshadow the danger to nature he poses.  In the first line, the narrator says, "The woods were already filled with shadows one June evening, just before eight o'clock, though a bright sunset still glimmered faintly among the trunks of the trees."  Foregrounding the darkness present, even during this beautiful sunset, helps to give readers a sense that some darkness is coming.  Then, as Sylvia walks her cow home, she notes the "gray shadows," just prior to becoming "horror-stricken" by the stranger's "aggressive" whistle.  Her first instinct is to think of him as "The enemy."  These descriptions helps us to understand that this man, however nice, poses some kind of danger; he is the shadow to Sylvia's light.

At least twice, Sylvia is compared to light, and she is almost always associated with it.  As she climbs the great pine tree, she is described as a "determined spark" and "[her] face [...] like a pale star," both sources of light.  It is notable that the stranger arrives at night, but Sylvia seems to come most alive in the morning, as she ascends toward the sky (she is even not used to being out as late as she must be that first night to find her cow, and she is feeling sleepy by the time she finds the cow). 

The link between light and the woods is strengthened by the climbing scene.  "Yes, there was the sea with the dawning sun making a golden dazzle over it, and toward that glorious east flew two hawks with slow-moving pinions [....] and Sylvia felt as if she too could go flying away among the clouds [...]; truly it was a vast and awesome world."  She imagines herself in the bright air, and it is, later, her memory of "the golden air" that renders her unable to "tell the heron's secret and give its life away."  The light and the sight of the sunrise from the woods impressed Sylvia (whose name comes from the word "sylvan" and means of or associated with the woods) with the beauty of the bird's life, and she cannot tell the hunter how to take it now.  It is as though the light dawning on the world represents a new perception of the stranger and his wishes that dawns on Sylvia.  Moreover, her fantasy of herself flying away with the hawks and the comparison of her to a bird "with her bare feet and fingers, that pinched and held like bird's claws" to the tree renders her incapable of betraying the heron, who now seems one of her fellows.  She is of the woods and the light in the same way that the heron is.

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