"A White Heron" can be thought of as a starting point for both ecological, nature-ethical literature in the US, and questioning the undoubted positive development of the US. The author explores a number of ecological themes including the freedom of nature, a return to nature, emancipation from materialism and industrialism. Other themes explored include the hesitation of actions that might counteract the proceeding industrialization and the recollection of the individual human being as the important actor in society.
This book can also be thought of as an example of New England feminist literature and an example of "New England Realism" (cf.: William Dean Howells).
Since the rise of feminist literary criticism around the 1960s, more research has been focused on the themes of how the female experience is presented in "A White Heron". Research by George Held has identified themes such as, “the socialization of girls, the balance of power between the sexes, and the need for a woman to be true to her nature". The influence of the female experience in this work being represented by the strength and independence of the main character has been connected to imitating a traditional hero character, more often depicted as male . This challenging of traditional roles of power argues the importance of the female voice and provides an empowering perspective on the female experience.
The protagonist in “A White Heron” can be seen as an example of a woman of power and embodying heroism. Some criticism has even acknowledged the fact that the main character of the story may have been loosely based off Jewett's life growing up. Losing her father encouraged a need to be a strong and powerful young girl. She created a character who expressed the female voice of the women of her time in a new perspective than traditionally published works.