In Sarah Orne Jewett's short story "The White Heron," the protagonist, Sylvia, changes from a vulnerable young girl seeking approval to a strong person who knows that nature is more valuable than money. Passing over the temporary pleasures of money or momentary kindness from the hunter, she protects the white heron, as she feels that the birds and the natural world they come from are far more valuable. In a short time, she has grown from being a shy girl to one who can stand up for what she believes in.
Here are some quotes to explain Sylvia's transformation. At the beginning of the story, in the exposition, she has just begun to flourish in the Maine countryside. Sylvia "had tried to grow for eight years in a crowded manufacturing town," but it is not until she comes to live on the Maine farm with her grandmother that she can truly develop physically and emotionally. To Sylvia herself, "it seemed as if she never had been alive" before she moved to the farm, where she is immersed in the world of nature and its delights, such as finding the lost cow in the huckleberry bushes. She also has seen the white heron: "She knew that strange white bird, and had once stolen softly near where it stood in some bright green swamp grass." She is alert to the wonders of nature, including the majestic white heron. Her grandmother, old Mrs. Tilley, understands how much Sylvia has grown since coming to the country, and she "thought often with wistful compassion of a wretched geranium that belonged to a town neighbor." The geranium is a flower that wilts in the town but thrives in the countryside, so it is a symbol for Sylvia. However, at the beginning of the story, Sylvia is so shy that she can barely speak to the handsome hunter who comes to her grandmother's house.
In the resolution of the story, Sylvia climbs a pine tree and observes the wonders of nature. She is described as one with nature; as she climbs the tree, her "face was like a pale star." She has become something magical and a part of the natural world. Though she sees the heron and knows where it is, and though she wants the approval of the sympathetic hunter and the money he offers to her and her poor grandmother, she refuses to tell him where the bird is. All at once, the mysteries of nature come to her:
"The murmur of the pine's green branches is in her ears, she remembers how the white heron came flying through the golden air and how they watched the sea and the morning together, and Sylvia cannot speak."
The majesty of nature has won her over, and she knows that it's more powerful than the money or approval the hunter can offer her. She has gone from being a shy child to one who knows what she stands for and refuses to tell adults where the white heron is hiding.