Editor's Choice

Why was Sylvia's decision to not reveal the white heron's location difficult?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Sylvia is torn between protecting the white heron and gaining materially by betraying it. Revealing its whereabouts would also please the young man who wants to shoot and stuff it.

First, as the story reveals, Sylvia and her grandmother "are poor now." The ten dollars the young man offers for the bird, an amount then worth far more than today, would be a windfall for them, making them feel "rich." At bed in night, Sylvia can scarcely calculate all the things ten dollars could buy.

Further, though she says she would like him better without his gun, Sylvia is "charmed" by the man who wants to stuff the white heron. She likes him and wants to please him, The story catches her thinking that he "is so well worth making happy."

However, although it would enrich her and please her new friend, Sylvia appreciates the grace and beauty of the bird too much to give away the secret of where it lives. As she recalls:

the white heron came flying through the golden air and . . . they watched the sea and the morning together, and Sylvia cannot speak; she cannot tell the heron's secret and give its life away.

Protecting the bird from harm means sacrificing money and the good will of the man, but Sylvia is willing to make these sacrifices to protect the bird.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Sylvia's decision not to tell the hunter the location of the heron's nest is difficult for a number of reasons.

First, the hunter has offered ten dollars to anyone who will show him where the heron lives:

No amount of thought, that night, could decide how many wished-for treasures the ten dollars, so lightly spoken of, would buy.

Even Mrs. Tilley, Sylvia's grandmother, is "amazed" by this amount, and so it must seem a veritable fortune to Sylvia herself. She dreams of all the wonderful things she might buy with that sum.

Second, she likes the hunter. After her initial fear of him, she develops a desire to make him happy. She watches him

with loving admiration. She had never seen anybody so charming and delightful; the woman's heart, asleep in the child, was vaguely thrilled by a dream of love.

Sylvia seems to have developed something of a girlhood crush on the hunter, a young man who seems kind and worldly. She wants to please him with her knowledge, but she "cannot tell the heron's secret and give its life away." She feels pulled, evidently, between her desire to make the hunter happy and her need to protect the beautiful bird with whom she watched the sunrise. This is what makes her decision so difficult.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In Sarah Orne Jewett's narrative, whether to reveal the location of the white heron is the central conflict of the narrative. Moreover, Sylvia's inner conflict of whether to inform the alluring ornithologist or to preserve the heron's life is one that is generated by Sylvia's emerging womanhood as she "could have served and followed him and loved him...."

Certainly, Sylvia has emerged from her timidity as at first the man's whistle has frightened her, but now it causes her to smile with pleasure and she revels in the idea of the "fancied triumph and delight and glory" of disclosing that she has found where the heron nests and hearing the man's response. Still, the harmony with Nature and loyalty to it that the girl has long felt exert a stronger force than any erotic whisperings. Yet, she wonders if "the birds were better friends" than the hunter, caught in her conflict of involvement and detachment.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial