What is the relationship between man and nature from Sylvia's perspective in "A White Heron"?

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hkhollands eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Sylvia imagines all the treasures that could be bought with the $10 offered by the ornithologist to whomever can show him the white heron.

In the morning, she climbs the great pine tree, believing that she will be able to see the nest of the heron. Sylvia is right; she discovers the heron's secret. She wonders what the stranger will think when she leads him to the nest.

Sylvia, however, recognizes that the hunter is an adversary to nature. He just wants to kill the bird and add it to his collection. Even though she has taken a liking to the sportsman, she "cannot tell the heron's secret and give its life away." Sylvia, herself, is very connected with nature.

The guest leaves disappointed. This is how the story ends: "Were the birds better friends than their hunter might have been, -- who can tell? Whatever treasures were lost to her, woodlands and summer-time, remember! Bring your gifts and graces and tell your secrets to this lonely country child!" Sylvia can, after all, keep nature's secrets. 

mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Perhaps the relationship between man and nature is best stated in Jewett's description of Sylvia and the old cow of her grandmother,

The companions followed the shady woodroad, the cow taking slow steps and the child very fast ones. The cow stopped long at the brook to drink...and Sylvia stood still and waited....

Companions, man and nature must coexist in a mutual respect and friendship, the narrator seems to imply in "A White Heron." For, Sylvia, who feels as though "she never had been alive at all before she came to live at the farm," delights in the wonders of the natural world. In fact, she feels "a part" of nature; for this reason, Sylvia can not understand why the young man kills birds that he professes to like. Because he has broken the code of respect for nature that Sylvia respects, she refuses to reveal to him the location of the white bird.

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A White Heron

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