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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In "A White Heron," Sylvia's name is an appropriate one for her since it is derived from the Latin word silva, which means "forest." Thus, it seems natural that Sylvia should be content in the woods. Also, like many sylvan creatures, Sylvia is timid and frightened of people.

"Afraid of folks" is how her grandmother describes Sylvia. In the country, though, “the wild creatur’s count her one o’ themselves," the older woman adds. One day as the timid girl heads the cow home, Sylvia displays this dread of people as she is frightened when she hears the whistle of a stranger. In fact, she worries that her beloved refuge from the noisy and crowded manufacturing town where she has previously lived is now invaded. When the tall young man emerges from the brush, he discovers Sylvia hiding in the nearby bushes. He tells the frightened girl that he has lost his way, adding that he now needs a friend. After asking her name, he requests shelter for the night and permission to hunt the next day. Reluctantly, Sylvia agrees to take him home, worried that her grandmother will "consider her much to blame."

To the girl's surprise, Mrs. Tilley graciously offers to feed the young hunter and provide him accommodations for the night. The next day, after learning from her grandmother that Sylvia has a wealth of knowledge about birds, the hunter has her accompany him. The shy girl does so willingly because she is somewhat lured by the offer of the tempting sum of ten dollars, and she is also attracted to this handsome young man and is "vaguely thrilled by a dream of love." However, this attraction does not outweigh Sylvia's love of nature, and she later refuses to betray the white heron by revealing the location of its nest. For she cannot forget how when she searched for it, 

...the white heron came flying through the golden air and ...they watched the sea and the morning together....She cannot tell the heron's secret and give its life away.

Her loyalty is not without cost, however. After the hunter departs, Sylvia spends many nights remembering "the echo of his whistle" and the joy she felt as she walked along with him in the woods. Certainly, Sylvia has matured from the experience of knowing this hunter.

favoritethings eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Sylvia is very shy around people.  When she lived in the city, her family believed that she was "'Afraid of folks,'" and it wasn't until she moved to the country, away from the "crowded manufacturing town" that she really began to thrive.  When her grandmother first brought her to the farm, Sylvia immediately described it as "beautiful" and said that she never wanted to go home again.  But as shy as she is around people, she comes alive when she's outside, in nature.  When she hears the thrushes sing, her "heart [...] beat[s] fast with pleasure," and when she hears the hunter's whistle, she is "horror-stricken." 

Sylvia is young, but not too young.  She is charmed by the hunter, once she spends more time with him, though she doesn't understand why he insists on his gun, why he wants to kill the very birds he says that he loves.  Delighted by him, nonetheless, "the woman's heart, asleep in the child, was vaguely thrilled by a dream of love."  She is not immune to his charms or to the benefits of the $10 he offers, but, ultimately, she puts her beloved nature ahead of both.

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A White Heron

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