Looking at "A White Heron" from a feminist point of view, what would you say the white heron could represent?

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In "The White Heron," Sarah Orne Jewett draws numerous parallels between Sylvia, the little girl, and the elusive bird. In the morning scene in which Sylvia climbs the tall pine, both the girl and the heron are white, innocent, rare, free, above the world, natural, and priceless. One can easily...

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In "The White Heron," Sarah Orne Jewett draws numerous parallels between Sylvia, the little girl, and the elusive bird. In the morning scene in which Sylvia climbs the tall pine, both the girl and the heron are white, innocent, rare, free, above the world, natural, and priceless. One can easily see that the bird is a symbol of Sylvia.

From a feminist perspective, then, we can take Sylvia as an "everywoman." If the girl represents womankind, the story showcases ideal feminine qualities. That Sylvia is pre-adolescent means that, while she has a vague interest in romance with the opposite sex, it's not a ruling drive for her. From that we can infer that women, ideally, live for more than pleasing and catching a man. Sylvia, while tempted by the relationship the hunter offers and the "treasures" his ten dollars would buy, decides that other things are more important. In the same way, a woman shouldn't allow the potential material comfort that marriage provides draw her away from the things she loves or cause her to give up her core values. Instead, each woman, like Sylvia, should follow her natural impulses to grow into the unique person she is designed to be. The beauty of a woman who follows her heart and freely pursues her passions is as rare, and as intrinsically valuable, as the majestic heron. Though many will try to "stuff and preserve" women as mere trophies, women must resist such people, even if it means forgoing some materialistic comfort. "Gifts and graces" of another kind will be granted to such a woman.

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The white heron could simply represent women in general and their relative position to men in the nineteenth century. During this era, women had precious few rights: women could not vote and any property they brought into a marriage became the legal property of their husbands—they had, in fact, no real legal identity but were subsumed under their fathers' and then their husbands' identities. The hunter, then, would represent men, and their desire to capture and confine women within the rules of marriage.

The hunter literally wants to kill the white heron so that he can preserve its beauty, but it isn't its feathers or its wings or its eyes that makes it beautiful; it is its life—all of these parts imbued with life. However, its life is not valued; the hunter only values the bird because it is rare and lovely and he wishes to add it to his collection. The hunter's gun, then, seems to be a phallic symbol, with which he hopes will render the bird helpless, in submission.

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This question can be easily answered in two parts.

First, white is typically the color used to represent innocence or purity. In this case, Jewett is referring to sexual purity.

Secondly, birds often represent freedom, and the ability to move from place to place on one's whim.

When you combine these two common symbols, you get an uncommon suggestion that women can maintain freedom and purity. The bird is a paradox, a seeming contradiction, and Jewett wants you to consider that contradiction and all its implications.

What does the story, now that you understand this symbol, now reveal about womens' liberation?

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