How does "A White Heron" by Sarah Orne Jewett illustrate a theme of nature vs. civilization?

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"A White Heron" helps to explore the theme of nature vs. civilization through the relationship between Sylvia and the hunter, who represent these entities, respectively.

Sylvia is very much aligned with nature; she is often compared to natural objects and creatures.  At first, the narrator says that she,...

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"A White Heron" helps to explore the theme of nature vs. civilization through the relationship between Sylvia and the hunter, who represent these entities, respectively.

Sylvia is very much aligned with nature; she is often compared to natural objects and creatures.  At first, the narrator says that she, like a flower, "had tried to grow for eight years in a crowded manufacturing town" and that Sylvia felt "as if she never had been alive at all before she came to live at the farm." Living in the country, nearer to nature, is what has brought Sylvia to life; it is vital to her.  Later, when the hunter asks her name, "she hung her head as if the stem of it were broken [...]" before answering him.  He seems to have the ability to damage or break her. Near the end, as she climbs the great pine tree to look for the heron, "her bare feet and fingers [...] pinched and held like bird's claws" to the tree. Even her name -- Sylvia -- has the same root as the word "sylvan," which means of or associated with the forest. Further, she instinctively fears the stranger, even though she later warms to him. When she hears his whistle, she is "horror-stricken" as she interprets it as "aggressive" and he as "the enemy." It is as though she recognizes him, on some level, as the enemy of nature.

The stranger is representative of "civilization," the city and industry: all that is opposed to nature. He is surprised to find such a comfortable home as Mrs. Tilley's in "this New England wilderness," because he had only seen the "horrors of [...] primitive housekeeping, and the dreary squalor" of country living before now. He looks down on this natural setting; it is only a place to visit in order to procure his trophies so that he can return home with them. It is not vital to him as it is to Sylvia; it is a novelty at best. Even the way he feels that he might be able to buy Sylvia's cooperation in helping him to find the heron smacks of "city values." For him, money talks; for her, the birds do.

In the end, Sylvia cannot bring herself to tell him where the heron lives; "she cannot tell the heron's secret and give its life away." She understands that the hunter's mode of "appreciation" -- taking the life of the animal so that he can possess it -- is not more valuable than the animal's life itself. She thinks of the "piteous sight of thrushes and sparrows dropping silent to the ground, their songs hushed and their pretty feathers stained and wet with blood." In the end, there will be little she (or anyone) can do to stop the advancement of "civilization" into nature. But she can save this one heron.

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