Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

In her depiction of the often-reiterated conflict, Jewett is not objective; the “scales” are heavily weighted in favor of nature. Besides using stereotypical characters in a Good-versus-Evil confrontation of mythic dimension, she uses sentimentality to invest both vegetable and animal worlds with human characteristics. Sylvia’s “valued companion” is not the hunter, but Mistress Moolly, the cow, who is capable of “pranks.” The birds and beasts “say good-night to each other in sleepy twitters,” thereby making their deaths seem more like “murder” and helping to account for Sylvia’s final decision. Even the pine tree is personified and depicted as an ally in her quest for knowledge. The tree is “asleep”; it even stands still and holds away the wind as Sylvia climbs. Sylvia’s very name, with its “sylvan” suggestions, indicates that her true home is in nature (she is known as “Sylvy” rather than the more formal “Sylvia”). Similarly, Mrs. Tilley, who “tills” her farm, is also in her proper habitat. On the other hand, the unnamed hunter is seen as an interloper who does not belong.

In order to elicit sympathy for Sylvia, Jewett uses the third-person-limited point of view, so that Sylvia’s perceptions become the readers’ perceptions. Her choice seems inevitable, but at the end of the story Jewett gains some distance from Sylvia and editorializes about the decision: “Dear loyalty, that suffered a sharp pang as the guest went away disappointed later in the day, that would have served and followed him and loved him as a dog loves!” The slavish, servile behavior Jewett describes is “puppy love,” unworthy of the white heron’s death. On the other hand, the epilogue concludes with the cost of Sylvia’s decision: “Bring your gifts and graces and tell your secrets to this lonely child!” Jewett’s last words suggest that the child needs human companionship and that nature’s “gifts and graces” may only partially compensate for “whatever treasures” (“whatever” tends to undermine the value of the “treasures”) she lost through her decision.

Historical Context

(Short Stories for Students)

Advancements for Women
The end of the nineteenth century brought many new opportunities for women in the United States...

(The entire section is 757 words.)

Literary Style

(Short Stories for Students)

Set in an isolated portion of Maine, ‘‘A White Heron’’ tells of a lonely nine-year-old girl’s decision not to reveal the location...

(The entire section is 1243 words.)

Compare and Contrast

(Short Stories for Students)

1880s: Concern for the environment becomes an issue in the United States in the years following the Civil War, when economic...

(The entire section is 264 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Short Stories for Students)

The bird Jewett was thinking of when she wrote this story is more frequently called the snowy egret. Research the natural history of the...

(The entire section is 182 words.)

Media Adaptations

(Short Stories for Students)

A White Heron was adapted as a video for elementary and junior-high audiences, Learning Corporation of America, 1978; available in...

(The entire section is 59 words.)

What Do I Read Next?

(Short Stories for Students)

The Country of the Pointed Firs, Jewett’s 1896 novel, is often considered her greatest work and one...

(The entire section is 273 words.)

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Short Stories for Students)

Ammons, Elizabeth. ‘‘The Shape of Violence in Jewett’s ‘A White Heron.’’’ Colby Library...

(The entire section is 328 words.)


(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Blanchard, Paula. Sarah Orne Jewett: Her World and Her Work. Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley, 1994.

Cary, Richard. Sarah Orne Jewett. New York: Twayne, 1962.

Cary, Richard, ed. Appreciation of Sarah Orne Jewett: Twenty-nine Interpretive Essays. Waterville, Maine: Colby College Press, 1973.

Church, Joseph. Transcendent Daughters in Jewett’s “Country of the Pointed Firs.” Rutherford, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1994.

Donovan, Josephine. Sarah Orne Jewett. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1980.

Howard, June, ed. New Essays on “The Country of the Pointed Firs.” Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1994.

Matthiessen, F. O. Sarah Orne Jewett. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1929.

Morgan, Jeff. Sarah Orne Jewett’s Feminine Pastoral Vision: “The Country of the Pointed Firs.” Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press, 2002.

Nagel, Gwen L., ed. Critical Essays on Sarah Orne Jewett. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1984.

Nagel, Gwen L., and James Nagel. Sarah Orne Jewett: A Reference Guide. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1978.

Renza, Louis. “A White Heron” and the Question of Minor Literature. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1984.

Roman, Margaret. Sarah Orne Jewett: Reconstructing Gender. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1992.

Sherman, Sarah Way. Sarah Orne Jewett: An American Persephone. Hanover, N.H.: University Press of New England, 1989.

Silverthorne, Elizabeth. Sarah Orne Jewett: A Writer’s Life. Woodstock, N.Y.: Overlook Press, 1993.