Write a literary analysis in which you explore the central conflict in “The White Heron,” the ethical dilemma that Sylvia has to deal with. Consider how Sylvia's behaviors and motivations contribute to the ethical dilemma she faces and explain how that dilemma affects the plot. What are the compelling moral arguments Sylvia must struggle to come to terms with? Why did she decide to keep her knowledge of the heron's location private?

The central conflict in “A White Heron” is internal. Sylvia is conflicted about whether she should protect the heron or help the hunter. Sylvia’s dilemma is ethical because she understands that the hunter is also a scientist whose work will expand everyone’s knowledge about herons. Therefore, keeping information to herself might be considered selfish. The moral dimensions include her aversion to killing beautiful, harmless creatures and to accepting money for her help.

Expert Answers

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A White Heron” presents the protagonist, Sylvia, as a girl who has recently discovered a deep love for nature. She wants to share her enjoyment and, when she meets an ornithologist, is also inspired to increase other people’s knowledge about birds—especially the white heron that swoops and glides. Sylvia soon realizes, however, that her mind and her heart are both conflicted. She is encouraged to help the man with his research both in the interest of science and because she appreciates what she considers to be their growing friendship.

An ethical conflict arises as she comprehends that his pursuit has a practical motivation, which is to advance his scientific career. The material dimension is played out in his offer to pay her. Even more challenging are the moral aspects of her inner torment. The scientist is also a hunter who collects dead specimens to preserve and study. If she agrees to his request to reveal the nest’s location, she will be a party to killing an animal she loves. Considering these two dimensions in combination, she realizes that by helping him, she would essentially become a paid hunter: she would take money for doing something she believes is wrong. As Sylvia climbs up alone to observe the bird, she rises above the conflicts. Sylvia will do what her own conscience tells her rather than follow the directives of another person with different values.

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