A White Heron and Other Stories

A White Heron and Other Stories Essay Questions

  1. 1

    How is the theme of Gender Roles communicated in the collection? Explain the writer’s purpose and viewpoint.

    Using ‘Farmer Finch’ and ‘Marsh Rosemary’, it is possible to explore the idea that women’s roles in particular do not need to be dictated by men. Polly Finch in becoming ‘son and daughter both’ is able to be part of her family and to show her skill as a farmer. She is intelligent, strong, assertive and business minded, which are not qualities that her father has. These qualities are not restricted by gender. In ‘Marsh Rosemary’, both the reader and the protagonist discover that Ann Lloyd may need love, but she did not need a husband. She was as contented and valued when she was doing good work for her community as she was looking after the wayward Jerry Lane.

  2. 2

    Consider the reasons why Sylvia remains silent about the heron. What does she lose from this decision? What might she gain?

    Sylvia is reminded of the affinity she feels with the birds rather than the dangerous, destructive hunter. She is drawn to the ‘handsome stranger’, but is welcomed and harboured by the great pine tree. There is a question over which friendship is more valuable to Sylvia, the birds or the hunter, but as she is so young and has ‘all the time there was’ she is not really losing a lover or a friend.

  3. 3

    What attitudes to Death are communicated in the story ‘The Gray Man’?

    First, it is worth considering why Death is personified as a gray man when he is traditionally associated with black. Jewett seems to suggest that there is more to be considered about this inevitable force. The gray man is unsmiling, supernatural and carries an air of foreboding, but he is also part of the community, willing to share his vast knowledge and a part of nature.

  4. 4

    Which of Jewett’s characters are deemed successful, and why?

    It would be useful to start with the definition of success highlighted at the beginning and the end of ‘A Business Man’ where Jewett clarifies that success is more than wealth, it is being part of society. Polly Finch is certainly successful in terms of wealth and happiness. She does not follow a traditional path of marriage and homemaking, but a more radical experience of taking on a career more usually associated with men. Ann Lane is successful in terms of money before she meets Jerry, but instead of mending her heart, he breaks it. Mary and Martha attain their dream of owning a sewing machine, which comes with family connections as well as heralding greater prosperity.

  5. 5

    How does Jewett convey mood through setting? Illustrate your answer with two or more stories.

    Jewett makes extensive use of pathetic fallacy within her stories. The supernatural atmosphere in ‘The Gray Man’ is conveyed through the bleak setting of the lonely dusk, the haunted house’ and a sky ‘heavy with snow’. The opening of ‘Farmer Finch’ with its cold salt marsh setting is interpreted differently according to the outlook of the characters. John Finch sees a ‘bleak, deserted’ scene whereas Polly Finch sees ‘rubies’. Mary and Martha are facing a severe winter without adequate means to support themselves before their cousin arrives.

  6. 6

    Do you see Jewett’s writing as ‘local color’ or ‘regionalist’? Illustrate your answer with reference to the stories from ’A White Heron’.

    Here the task requires consideration as to whether the stories move beyond mere description and record of a time and place, as would be suggested by the term ‘local color’, and a desire to encapsulate the spirit, issue and motivations of a changing society, as ‘regionalism’ would indicate. Stories such as ‘Marsh Rosemary’, ‘Farmer Finch’ and ‘A White Heron’ may appear to have more weight than ‘The Dulham Ladies’ or “Mary and Martha’.

  7. 7

    Select three unique characters from the collection, ‘A White Heron’. What makes these characters unique?

    A definition of unique may include reference to being special, unusual or even just different. The gray man would be one, as it is questionable whether he is even human. Polly Finch is dynamic in the way she asserts herself in a man’s job, and the Dulham Sisters are certainly individual in their appearance and manners.

  8. 8

    Does Jewett stereotype her male characters to be weak and unreliable? Discuss this idea with reference to two or more stories.

    The male characters in “A White Heron’, ‘Marsh Rosemary’ and ‘Farmer Finch could be said to be weak, but they are complemented by characters in stories such as ‘A Business Man’, ‘Mary and Martha’ and ‘The Gray Man’. It would depend which stories were found to be most convincing in their characterisation.

  9. 9

    Of the moral messages imparted in Jewett’s stories, which do you feel is the strongest? Use two stories to illustrate your idea.

    There are various possibilities. The importance of friendship, kinship and society could be illustrated through ‘Mary and Martha’ and ‘A Business Man’. The ability to attain one’s dream is highlighted in ‘Mary and Martha’ and ‘Farmer Finch’. The complexities of conforming to societal norms may be seen in ‘The Dulham Ladies’ and ‘Marsh Rosemary.’ Stories that hint at environmental awareness are ‘A White Heron’ and ‘Farmer Finch’.

  10. 10

    Which of the stories in ‘A White Heron’ has the greatest significance today? Refer to specific detail in your answer.

    There are several ideas that could be pursued. Reflecting on our continued drive for financial rather than social riches could be an important message from ‘A Business Man’. The gender restrictions transcended by Farmer Finch still exist today, and Polly’s successes are still worthy of note. Our fear and trepidation surrounding Death means that the identity of the gray man is still a fearful prospect for many.