Explain the setting of "A White Heron."

The setting of "A White Heron" is a wooded rural area off the Maine coast. It is sparsely populated and dominated by nature. Sylvia feels so at one with this personified natural setting that she refuses to tell the stranger the location of the white heron.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Jewett's "The White Heron" is set in a wooded rural area near the coast of Maine that is poor and sparsely populated. Nature dominates the story.

As the tale opens, we see that Sylvia is driving a cow home. We are told she doesn't have any playmates, attesting to an...

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

Jewett's "The White Heron" is set in a wooded rural area near the coast of Maine that is poor and sparsely populated. Nature dominates the story.

As the tale opens, we see that Sylvia is driving a cow home. We are told she doesn't have any playmates, attesting to an isolated setting. We learn, too, that she has time to interact with her natural environment:

Sylvia had all the time there was, and very little use to make of it.

The isolated setting soon becomes important to the plot as Sylvia meets a stranger on the way home. He tells her he is searching for the rare and elusive white heron. Sylvia and her grandmother live far away enough from any center of civilization that it is likely the bird is nearby. We learn that their little cottage is about a mile from the main road, where passing travelers might disturb a heron and drive it to nest elsewhere.

Sylvia becomes one with the natural setting as she climbs a tree to find the white heron in the early morning:

The tree ... was like a great main-mast to the voyaging earth; it must truly have been amazed that morning through all its ponderous frame as it felt this determined spark of human spirit wending its way from higher branch to branch. Who knows how steadily the least twigs held themselves to advantage this light, weak creature on her way! The old pine must have loved his new dependent. More than all the hawks, and bats, and moths, and even the sweet voiced thrushes, was the brave, beating heart of the solitary gray-eyed child. And the tree stood still and frowned away the winds that June morning while the dawn grew bright in the east.

Jewett personifies the tree, giving it human characteristics. It is described as "amazed" that Sylvia is climbing it. The "least twigs" are seen as holding themselves in such a way as to help her on her journey. We are told that the old pine "loved" this new occupant who joins the birds, bats, and insects as another child of nature. The tree "frowned" at the wind, as human might, to discourage it from shaking the tree's branches and endangering the child.

Sylvia's kinship with this natural setting, with which she feels at one, helps us to understand why she refuses to tell the stranger the location of the lovely white heron that he wants to kill and stuff.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team