In Sarah Orne Jewett's story "A White Heron ," Sylvia and her grandmother are joined in their country home by a young ornithologist. The young man is kind, and Sylvia grows to like him, even though she remains shy and quiet. But there is one thing wrong with...
In Sarah Orne Jewett's story "A White Heron," Sylvia and her grandmother are joined in their country home by a young ornithologist. The young man is kind, and Sylvia grows to like him, even though she remains shy and quiet. But there is one thing wrong with his activities. He doesn't merely observe the birds. He doesn't even catch them alive. He shoot them and stuffs them. Sylvia struggles with this, for the birds are her friends.
On the evening of the young man's arrival, he sits with Sylvia and her grandmother in the doorway, and Sylvia listens to the conversation. The young man speaks about the illusive bird he seeks above all, the white heron. As she listens, Sylvia watches a hop-toad on the footpath. She is not actually paying much attention to the toad. Rather, she is trying to process the young man's words. She knows the bird he seeks, or at least she has seen it. She continues to watch the toad as the young man says that he would gladly give ten dollars to anyone who could show him the heron's nest. Sylvia just watches the toad and says nothing.
This reveals something important about Sylvia. She thinks before she speaks and acts. She carefully considers the situation before her. Ten dollars is a lot of money, and Sylvia and her grandmother are poor, but Sylvia needs time to think, so she focuses on the closest creature of nature she can see, that toad, and she keeps her mouth firmly shut.
Sylvia continues this thoughtful, careful, mindful behavior throughout the story. She does not volunteer information to the young man, no matter how well she likes him. While this is partly out of shyness, Sylvia is still disturbed by the young man's gun and his casual taking of birds' lives.
When Sylvia climbs the ancient pine tree and discovers the location of the heron's nest, she faces a difficult decision. Again, she thinks before she speaks, and she decides that she cannot betray the bird, not even for ten dollars. Sylvia keeps her eyes fixed on nature and her heart loyal to her first love.