Compare the two main characters in "A White Heron" by Sarah Orne Jewett.  

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carol-davis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Sarah Orne Jewett's "A White Heron" portrays a segment of the life of a nine year old city girl who has come to stay with her grandmother in the country.  The narrator explains that  Sylvia has learned quickly about nature and its importance. 

Each day, Sylvia's job involves finding a cow that likes to hide and bringing her home. Without knowing what she has discovered, Sylvia has found the nest of an endangered white heron. 

On her way home, she meets a young man carrying a gun who is an ornithologist.  The hunter shots birds, stuffs them, and studies them. Despite her fear of him, he comes home with Sylvia to stay the night so that he can search for the white heron.  When the man learns that Sylvia knows about birds, he offers her ten dollars, an exorbitant amount for the family, to help him find the nest. 

Both of these characters have an affinity for nature and a love of birds. They find the natural setting comforting and soothing.  As they walk through the woods in search of the heron, the unusual pair approach the experience with different eyes.  The young girl finds joy from being in the woods and experiencing the natural world. The grandmother told the man:

There ain’t a foot o’ ground she don’t know her way over, and the wild creaturs counts her one o’ themselves.

Her safety and security are interrupted by the man who aggressively intrudes on her protected world. Nature has accepted Sylvia and the girl feels that it is an honor that she respects. Sylvia realizes that nature does not serve man and his foolishness. 

The man has ulterior motives.  Yes, he enjoys and loves nature.  However, he has little respect for the flow of nature.  His needs and desires are more important than the loss of another beautiful bird.  The man must have this heron.

Sylvia immediately knows where to find the bird.  She could have led him there. Even though she is a young child, Sylvia senses that to kill this bird for money would not be right. 

Despite her connection to the man, she pulls away from him and does not help him to the heron's nest.  The author uses the girl's victory and the white heron avoidance of a hunter's bullet to demonstrate nature’s worth to be  supreme and untouched by human values. The value of nature far exceeds the man's yearnings.