In "A White Heron," does Sylvia's tree climbing symbolize anything?

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The short story "A White Heron " tells of a girl named Sylvia who lives with her grandmother in the woods of Maine. While bringing the cow home, she comes across a tall young man who is hunting for a rare white heron. He wants to kill it and...

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stuff it for his collection. He offers what to Sylvia is a lot of money if she will help him find the bird. Sylvia is motivated to help—not only for the things that she can buy with the money but also because she finds the young man attractive. Sylvia climbs the great pine tree so that she can find the hidden nest of the white heron, but she also considers climbing it a great adventure.

There is symbolism in the act of Sylvia climbing the tree, because, when she gets to the top, she has what might be described as a transcendental experience. This means an experience that goes beyond the normal into the extraordinary, supernatural, or spiritual. She locates the hidden nest of the elusive white heron, but she also sees the sun rising over the gold-specked sea, the white sails of ships and two hawks flying as well as woodlands, farms, churches, and villages for miles into the distance. She almost feels as if "she too could go flying away among the clouds."

This experience has a profound effect upon Sylvia. Although her first impulse is still to tell the hunter where the heron is, by the time she gets back she has changed her mind. She realizes that she has had an epiphany, or an illuminating realization:

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; she cannot tell the heron's secret and give its life away.

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Like beauty, symbolism is in the eye of the beholder, or in this case, the reader. In one way, the tree serves a function in the story. Climbing the great pine allows Sylvia to spot the white heron from high above the forest. She climbs the tree to find the heron's nest so that she can tell the hunter, thus pleasing him and earning the money her grandmother needs.

However, Sylvia's climb up the tree is quite difficult and dangerous, requiring much bravery and strength. Once she reaches the top, she experiences the natural beauty of the world in a way that she never would have known had she not made the climb. She leaves her own world and lives for a little while in the heron's world. What she sees and feels at the top of the pine tree changes Sylvia in a profound way, and she can no longer give the heron up to destruction at the hands of the hunter.

The fact that the story's climax concerns Sylvia climbing the pine tree suggests that it has a meaning greater than its literal fact. Sylvia's climb might be interpreted as her growing up, finding her own identity and values. This isn't easy, but the rewards are great. After climbing the great pine, Sylvia has realized something important about herself and how she will live her life.

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In "A White Heron," why does Sylvia climb the great pine tree?

Sylvia is a young girl who has left a crowded industrial town to live with her grandmother on a beautiful, remote farm near the sea. Sylvia is fearful of people, but living on the farm allows her to embrace the beauty and the solitute of nature. Sylvia feels "as if she never had been alive at all before she came to live at the farm."

When a young hunter enters Sylvia's life, she slowly overcomes her shyness and begins to like him. She feels the stirrings of first love. The hunter seeks a specific white heron that he wants to kill, stuff, and add to his collection. Thinking that Sylvia might know the location of the heron's nest, he offers her ten dollars to help him. Sylvia wants to please him and to earn the money, which her grandmother needs.

Sylvia knows of a great pine tree that towers over all the forest, so tall it serves as a landmark for miles and miles, by sea and by land. Sylvia had climbed trees in the woods, but she had never attempted to climb the huge pine, a very dangerous endeavor.

Early one moring before dawn, Sylvia climbs to the top of the pine so that she can look down and survey the forest below to discover the heron's nest. Once she finds the nest, she can show the hunter its location. However, once Sylvia finds the white heron and shares its beautiful world for a little while, Sylvia cannot tell where the heron lives. She cannot help the hunter destroy the beautiful bird.

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In "A White Heron," why is Sylvia's climb up the tree so important to the conflict that she faces?

Sylvia finds that the arrival of the young, handsome hunter kindles a desire within her to please him and to tell him the information that he is looking for. Fortunately, her knowledge of the woods and of its inhabitants and her close relationship with nature allows her to find out the information that he is after: the location of the nest of the white heron. Note the way we are told Sylvia thinks of the climb up the tree:

Now she thought of the tree with a new excitement, for why, if one climbed it at break of day, could not one see all the world, and easily discover whence the white heron flew, and mark the place, and find the hidden nest?

Sylvia contemplates her "triumph" as she is able to tell the hunter the information he wants. Her subsequent climb up the perilous tree that is so high and dangerous therefore symbolises her desire to please the hunter and enter the world of men, in opposition to the world of nature that has been her home up until now. It therefore helps us to understand the massive internal conflict that she is experiencing as it looks as if she will choose men at this stage over nature. Notice how as she descends the great tree, having learnt the "secret" of the white heron, all she can think of is the hunter and what he will say:

Wondering over and over again what the stranger would say to her, and what he would think when she told him how to find his way straight to the heron's nest.

The climb up the tree is therefore used to advance the conflict that Sylvia undergoes internally as the story forces her to choose between nature and the world of men.

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