Selected Short Stories

Reading questions- A white heron

Discuss three ways the various attitudes toward nature represented in the story are still evident today

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The beauty of nature and protecting it is a major theme of this story. In modern day we grapple more than ever with protecting nature with losing some kind of personal or financial gain.

Although part of her wishes to make the young man happy, she chooses to protect the bird instead. This indicates to the reader that she is, on reflection, content with her life amongst the animals, and the young man is unable to tempt her away. There is a cynical tone to Jewett’s narrative here as Sylvia contemplates what she has lost in not helping the young man; noting that she could ‘have served and followed him and loved him as a dog does.’ The use of the ‘dog’ simile indicates unconditional obedience rather than a balanced relationship. The animal simile may have been appropriate in Sylvia’s imagination, but the idea of a dog also suggests domesticity, which does not fit with the wild natural spirit we see in Sylvia.

Jewett invites us to contemplate whether Sylvia made the right decision; ‘Were the birds better friends than their hunter might have been, - who can tell?’ The implication is that Sylvia is indeed better off without the hunter seeking his prey, which she could all too easily have become. Certainly we can understand this in a modern day context as well.