What is Sylvia's relationship like with nature in "A White Heron"?

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Sylvia’s changing relationship with nature is one primary theme of “A White Heron .” As a former city girl, she comes to know the natural world in increasingly intimate, nuanced ways. Confronting the threat to that world, which the hunter’s mercenary attitude represents, is the most important development in...

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Sylvia’s changing relationship with nature is one primary theme of “A White Heron.” As a former city girl, she comes to know the natural world in increasingly intimate, nuanced ways. Confronting the threat to that world, which the hunter’s mercenary attitude represents, is the most important development in her character as she quickly matures through their interaction.

As the story opens, Sylvia is relishing her new-found vitality in the idyllic rural setting. Sylvia feels that "she never had been alive at all before” and even enjoys having farm animals as friends.

When Sylvie meets the stranger, she initially feels a bond with him. Knowing about the heron, she wants to expand her knowledge and share it with him. As she learns more about his intentions, however, her true loyalties are developed. She comes to understand the importance of stewardship, as she can play a role in protecting nature rather than just enjoying it. The hunter represents a threat not only to the heron itself and the rural lifeways, but also to Sylvia’s integrity. She grows into a more mature person by having to think through the possibilities and arrive at her own position, and then take a stand in defense of wildlife.

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Sylvia, "a child of nature," is eight years old and has come to think of nature as her home. We see that she admires and respects nature. We even see that she seems to love her cow. Things that others see as "just animals" are friends to her. She wants to be in nature, and she seems to share a special connection with nature.

When the hunter arrives, she cannot understand why he wants to kill the birds he claims to admire. For Sylvia, nature is about the cycle, and the beauty of nature includes life. Killing something so beautiful as the white heron is incomprehensible for her, because she understands that nature is about living things.

She defends this understanding of nature through the end of the story, when she refuses to reveal the white heron's location and chooses to protect nature instead of caving for the man or the money that he offers her.

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Sylvia's relationship with nature is fundamental to her character. In many ways, she is actually symbolic of nature. To begin with, consider her name: Sylvia. Its root is sylvan, a word that describes something that lives in, relates to, is made of, or abounds in woods or trees (like, for example, a bird). Further, she is very often compared to natural elements: she is called a "little woods-girl"; her face is described as a "pale star," and her climbing hands as "bird's claws." Sylvia is even compared to a flower when the narrator describes her as hanging "her head as if the stem of it were broken."

Moreover, Sylvia couldn't thrive in the city. When her grandmother chose Sylvia from among her grandchildren to come and live with her, everyone talked about how it was a "good change" for the child: "as for Sylvia herself, it seemed as if she never had been alive at all before she came to live at the farm." Sylvia adores living on the farm, and the animals all seem to know her; her grandmother tells the hunter all about how Sylvia knows the creatures and all the land.

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Sylvia has a good relationship with nature. She truly appreciates it and respect it, unlike the hunter who only wants the heron for his "collection."  Sylvia has a true connection to nature and it is a part of who she is.  This is why she cannot tell the hunter about seeing the white heron.  She realizes its importance to nature and to her and this prevents her from telling the hunter about it.

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