What is the genre and theme of "A White Heron"?

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"A White Heron," first published in 1886, belongs to the local color movement in American literature which flourished after the Civil War. Although it is primarily romantic in tone and theme, the story does depict Sarah Orne Jewett's New England setting in realistic detail, a strong element in local color writing.

Most of the story is conventional in literary technique, but Jewett's shifting point of view was not conventional at all in the literary period in which she wrote. In some ways, the unconventional point of view seems to anticipate the transition into modernism in American literature that did not occur until the 1920s.  

Because of its numerous types of conflict, several themes can be found within the story, but "A White Heron" is clearly an initiation story. The primary theme concerns Sylvia's growing self-awareness. In the beginning of the story, Sylvia is a shy, lonely girl who has moved to the country to live with her grandmother. Sylvia finds peace in her natural surroundings, but her emotions become confused when the young hunter comes into her life, and she feels the first stirrings of romantic love. When the hunter offers her money to help him find the white heron, so that he can kill it and stuff it for his collection, Sylvia decides to help him. Her motivations are strong: She wants to earn his approval and wants to earn the money for her grandmother. Sylvia knows her own mind when she goes to the forest to find the heron's nest, but she has yet to know her heart or define her values.

After climbing the great pine, however, and sharing the heron's world at daybreak--among the tree tops of the forest and with the ocean in view--Sylvia is initiated into a spiritual union with the natural world and an understanding of her own nature and values. She will not play any role in the destruction of the beautiful heron, not for money and not for love.

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What is the genre of "A White Heron"?

Sarah Orne Jewett’s stories are generally classified as local color writing. These texts describe the settings and events of a particular age and place – in Jewett’s case, Maine in the 1880’s. Her work has also been said to have elements of regionalism, and Jewett’s own intentions that her work was to be a catalogue of social history which would endure, certainly indicates that this was part of the intent of her writing.

The story, “A White Heron” also has leanings towards a Romantic ideal, as the gently nymph Sylvia turns her back on the worldly stranger and chooses to protect the habitat of the heron rather than receive payment from the eager hunter. Sylvia becomes part of the environment as she climbs the tree to locate the elusive heron’s nest-

with her bare feet and fingers that inched and held like bird’s claws to the monstrous ladder.

Jewett was influenced by the writers of the Romanic period – Willam and Dorothy Wordsworth in particular. However, her writing is as much involved with defining social conscience and behaviors than placing humanity within the natural world.

Local color was a slightly patronizing term which indicated writing which had little depth. The genre is becoming more understood and appreciated in recent years, and the merits of local color writing are more valued of an exploration of fiction, particularly from women writers of the time.

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What is the genre of "A White Heron"? What is the theme?

First of all, the story is fiction. The category of fiction it falls into is short story. Within the short story, it can be called "regional fiction" or "narrative of community." You might also classify the story within the subgenre of women's fiction.

As for the theme of the story, see the eNotes article linked below. "The White Heron" is a coming of age story, so one of its themes Sylvia's rite of passage from child to woman, from innocence to maturity.

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