What are the patterns in the beginning and the ending of "A White Heron"?  

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accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Reading the first and final paragraphs of this excellent short story, which clearly has a very strong "green" message that is therefore appropriate for our times, there is a pleasing parallel between the opening and the final paragraph, both of which refer to Sylvia returning home at night driving the cow, and her close affinity to nature. Consider how the story begins:

A little girl was driving home her cow, a plodding, dilatory, provoking creature in her behaviour, but a valued companion for all that. They were going away from the western light, and striking deep into the dark woods, but their feet were familiar with the path, and it was no matter whether their eyes could see it or not.

Note the way in which Sylvia, although robbed of the sense of sight, is so familiar and attuned to the forest that, in spite of the darkness, she is able to find her way expertly. In the same way, this image is returned to at the end of the story:

Many a night Sylvia heard the echo of his whistle haunting the pasture path as she came home with the loitering cow.

The image of the cow and Sylvia returning home at night is a central image that seems to suggest the way that, by the end of the story, her life has not changed and she has given up the one hope of escape that she had. Having chosen to not reveal the location of the heron's nest has resulted in her being trapped in a future characterised by solitude and estrangement from her own kind, but a deep, abiding relationship with nature.