Student Question

What objects represent Sylvia in "A White Heron"?

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At the beginning of the story, Sylvia is compared to a flower: she had "tried to grow for eight years" in the city but could not.  "She thought often with wistful compassion of a wretched dry geranium that belonged to a town neighbor."  It is as though she empathizes with this sad geranium because she was so like it: stunted, dried up, unable to thrive in the "crowded manufacturing town."  Sylvia is again compared to a flower as she and the stranger walk home with her cow.  When the stranger pressed her for her name, "she hung her head as if the stem of it were broken [...]."  It is notable that the presence and questions of the stranger seem to have the ability to injure or damage things that are natural.

Later, when Sylvia climbs the great pine tree, she is compared to a bird: "her bare feet and fingers [...] pinched and held like bird's claws to the monstrous ladder reaching up, up, almost to the sky itself."  She clung to the giant tree like a tiny, but tough bird.

It is no wonder that Sylvia is compared to these two symbols of nature.  She loves nature and understands it and fits into it; she truly appreciates it and longs to preserve it, even when she's offered money and gifts and charm to give it away.  She is nature, while the stranger represents everything that encroaches on it.

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