Student Question

In "A White Heron," are there clues about Sylvia's potential actions?

Expert Answers

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As is often typical of many narratives, there is foreshadowing in Sarah Orne Jewett's "A White Heron."  Certainly, it is important for a reader to be attentive to details in the expositions of narratives in which character development is begun as well as the initiation of conflicts and other plot elements.  For instance, in her story, Jewett provides biographical bacground on the character of Sylvia:  She is a child who loves the out-of-doors and "afraid of folks"; that is, she is not gregarious and social person.  Instead, she loves nature; and, as this "little woods-girl" walks home with the prankish cow, Syvie feels "as if she were a part of the gray shadows and the moving bees."  Moreover, her grandmother describes Sylvie in this way.

There ain't a foot o' ground she don't know her way over, and the wild creaturs counts her one o' themselves...."

Further, as the stranger walks with Sylvie along sylvan paths, he expresses his wild hope of finding the white heron, but Syvie, who "wondered and dreamed much about" this exotic bird was "still watch[ing] the toad" she has been following with her eyes, an indication of the strength of her love for all of nature.  And, although she loses her "first fear" of the handsome stranger, Sylvie

...could not understand why he killed the very birds he seemed to like so much."

And, although she is stirred by a "dream of love" with this handsome stranger, it is apparent that Sylvie's love and respect for nature is greater.  Therefore, with all these indications of Sylvie's character, the reader has foreshadowing of the ending, with its many hints that Sylvie respects nature and life more than the draw of love can conquer.

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