Table of Contents
3. The Hunter
4. Sylvia’s Inner Conflict
5. Pine Tree
6. Sylvia’s Love for Nature
7. Sylvia’s Maturation
Sarah Orne Jewett’s short story “A White Heron” from 1886 is about a young girl’s reaction towards a man who enters her life and who wants to persuade her to telling him where a rare bird is hiding. Although Sylvia falls in love with the bird hunter in the beginning and wants to impress him, she realizes the importance of protecting the environment around her from his influence. She does not give the secret of the bird away for the sake of love.
Jewett shows in this story that Sylvia’s world is disturbed by the appearance of the hunter. She lived happily with her grandmother in an exclusive paradise without men before. With the intrusion of the hunter in her familiar surroundings, everything changes. He is a threat to her peaceful existence and influences her future life and behaviour. In this essay I will argue how Sylvia’s attitude towards the hunter changes and how Jewett explores the sexual conflict between the two sexes in this story.
Sylvia is a nine-year old girl who was raised “in a crowded manufacturing town” (Jewett 597). She never felt comfortable in the city, so when Sylvia was send to her grandmother’s farm, she became happy. She is now living alone with her grandmother and seldom meets other people. Sylvia loves the forest with its animals and her grandmother appreciates this by telling the hunter about her ability: “There ain’t a foot o’ ground she don’t know her way over, and the wild creatur’s counts her one o’ themselves” (Jewett 599).
Sylvia does not meet many other people around the farm and she does not miss them. When she remembers life in town she thinks about “the great red-faced boy who used to chase and frighten her” (Jewett 598). This shows that Sylvia has no good memories of boys and does not think positive of them, because she never met friendly males. She lives happily without men and does not care about their existence, because they rather seem like something dangerous.
When the bird-hunter appears for the first time, the narrator takes on Sylvia’s negative attitude towards men. His whistling is not friendly like the one of a bird, but “determined, and somewhat aggressive”, he is the “enemy”, and at the same time “cheerful and persuasive” (Jewett 598). He is not part of her known world and, lacking experience with men, Sylvia is afraid of him. Meeting him is a negative experience and she even thinks that her grandmother might blame her for bringing this unwanted stranger. He is already depicted as evil and dominant by telling Sylvia what to do. And although he got lost in the forest, the hunter behaves as if he owns it and displays his male superiority.
3. The Hunter
The hunter lures Sylvia into taking him to her home, in need of food and shelter. This shows that he immediately wants to take advantage of her. But Sylvia senses the danger: she is “alarmed” and describes their meeting as an “accident” (Jewett 598). He does not even ask politely, but is sure that Sylvia and her grandmother will let him stay. When they sit together and the hunter talks about his wish to shoot the white heron, Sylvia realizes that with giving away the hiding place of the bird for ten dollars, she could make her grandmother and herself happy. Sylvia did not care about wealth before, but because the hunter offers her money for seeing the heron, she is tempted with the trappings of the material world. He can give her what she never desired before, but what she might want in the future. The young man is confident enough to bribe Sylvia, because he sees that they are not wealthy: “In addition to a formidable arsenal that includes scientific knowledge and technological mastery, the young man has money, the power to transform tangible realities into commodities quantified and suitable for exchange” (Sherman 156). He believes that Sylvia is happy to exchange her knowledge for money. With this, Jewett displays the attitude of rich men to exert power over others and to buy themselves what they want. The hunter is displayed as a wealthy man who did not get rejected before. Sylvia knows that her grandmother is poor: they only have little to offer the hunter in terms of food and shelter so when he offers them ten dollars, they naturally seem interested. But although the two women are poor, they have enough means for a satisfied life. They do not have to depend on men, but when they are offered money, they are reminded about the fact that more wealth could maybe enrich their lives.