In "A White Heron," why does the author use shadows?

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The shadow acts as a dual symbol in this story: it represents both the nature Sylvie feels part of and the threat of the invader.

Early in the story, leading the milk cow home, the narrator uses the word "shadow" twice in one paragraph, writing:

She [Sylvie felt] as if...

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The shadow acts as a dual symbol in this story: it represents both the nature Sylvie feels part of and the threat of the invader.

Early in the story, leading the milk cow home, the narrator uses the word "shadow" twice in one paragraph, writing:

She [Sylvie felt] as if she were a part of the gray shadows and the moving leaves. She . . . thought of the great red-faced boy who used to chase and frighten her [which] made her hurry along the path to escape from the shadow of the trees.

Starting with the second use of shadow, we understand that shadows represent the threat of danger. In fact, danger does come out of the shadows of the trees in the form of a man with a gun. This stranger stays with her at her grandmother's home and offers ten dollars, a large amount of money in those days, if she can lead him to a white heron. He wants to shoot and stuff it.

This brings us to the first use of shadow. Sylvie, a few days after the stranger's arrival, climbs a tall tree at dawn and becomes one with nature, as she was with the gray shadows. She spots the white heron from the trees. But this child of nature will not betray a fellow creature and so keeps the whereabouts of the heron hidden in the shadows. Not even a large sum of money can cause her to betray the bird or her integrity.

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In "A White Heron," Sarah Orne Jewett uses references to shadows in order to foreshadow the coming of the hunter, a figure that represents a force which is hostile to nature, and establish the story's mood.  In the first line of the story, the narrator says that "The woods were already filled with shadows one June evening, just before eight o'clock, though a bright sunset still glimmered faintly among the trunks of the trees."  By describing the shadow so early in the piece, Jewett uses it to help establish the mood of the story: there is a darkness looming and we should prepare ourselves for it.

The "gray shadows" are referenced once again, immediately prior to Sylvia's hearing, and being frightened by, the hunter's whistle, the whistle he uses to lure birds to him.  She was not typically out this late, and so, again, the reference to shadow seems to establish some suspense as well as to foreshadow the danger approaching in the form of the hunter who kills and stuffs the birds he claims to love.

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