A number of themes are developed in the short story, “A White Heron” by Sarah Orne Jewett. However, the story’s main theme is one of self-discovery. The protagonist changes in a significant way as a result of an experience. Sylvia’s experience with the white heron leads to an understanding of herself and her own values. Sylvia had lived and tried to grow for eight years in a crowed city before she came to live with her grandmother in the country. She was a shy, lonely child and it seemed as if she had never been alive at all before she came to the farm.
She thought it was a beautiful place and never wished to go home. Almost all of her time was spent outdoors, becoming one with nature. When the hunter arrives in the story, the little woods-girl is horror stricken at first. However, he brings a new element into her life. Sylvia had lost her first fear of the friendly young man, who proved to be kind and sympathetic and begins to like him and experiences young love.
“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. His offer of ten dollars to help him find the white heron and her want to please him motivated her to seek the heron’s nest even though she grieved because the longed-for white heron was elusive. Sylvia snuck out her house at night and went into the woods to locate the heron’s nest for the hunter. As she climbed the tallest pine in the forest, she listens to the twitter of the birds with a sense of comfort and companionship, watches the sunrise, sees the sea, and spies the nest in the forest below her.
Then the white heron appears. A sight of pure beauty, pluming his feathers for the new day, moving safe and freely in its own surroundings. When the feather of the heron rises, it symbolizes Sylvia’s awakening and by climbing the tree, Sylvia has left her own limited world and entered one unfamiliar to her. It’s a world of magnificence and she becomes a part of all she sees and feels. When she returns home, she chooses not to reveal the location of the nest to the hunter and her grandmother.
The murmur of the pine’s green branches 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. ” She has reflected on her experience and changed immense way. Throughout the story, there were many symbols. The hunter represented human companionship and the white heron represented the companionship of the natural world. The variations we see in Sylvia’s view of the heron represents shifts in her valuation of nature.
She is a nature-lover at heart however, she loses track of that when the handsome hunter comes along and wants her to help lead him to the heron. Similar to the cow, Mistress Mooly, Sylvia becomes friends with the white heron. They “watched the sea and morning together” and although they aren’t able to communicate, this moment together had a huge impact on Sylvia and why she was unable to reveal the location of the heron’s nest to the hunter. Thus, she gets pulled back to her connection with nature. There is also a constant appearance of the colors black and white. Black represented darkness, ignorance, and misguidedness.
Whereas white represented light, awakening, and freedom. Sylvia’s eyes were grey, a color between black and white. This symbolizes her uncertainty of which way to go, evil or good. “A White Heron” is a story of man vs man and man vs nature. The symbolism also represents man vs himself. Through Sylvia’s experience in the pine tree, she has become aware of truth she did not know existed. This truth became a part of her. Her choosing to remain silent was a crucial element in the story. It showed her values were defined. She wanted to value life and beauty rather than endorse and embrace destruction.