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Literary Analysis of a Story “A White Heron” by Sarah Orne Jewett

Formal Analysis “A White Heron”

One of the most prominent works in American literature is the story “A White Heron” by Sarah Orne Jewett. The main heroin, Sylvia, came to the countryside to help her grandmother and left there forever. The story embraces only a small part of girl’s interesting life and everyday discoveries of the surroundings. The story reveals the reader a small episode of Sylvia’s encountering the rural life, full of temptation and untruth.

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From the first sight, the story might seem to be the ordinary text about a little girl, living in the wood with her grandmother, but reading precisely one can find a great amount of details proving a unique style of author’s writing. Jewett in the colloquial tone raises certain problems in the text and shows her attitude to their solving through actions and words of the main characters. There are three of them: Sylvia, Mrs. Tilley, her grandma, and a hunter. They represent people of middle class, though they live poor but have their own dignity. At the first meeting with the hunter the house was “clean and comfortable… in this New England wilderness…it was the best thrift of an old-fashioned farmstead” (Jewett 3). Description emphasizes the half aboriginal dwelling but neat and cozy for hostess and guests. «New” means renewing the lifestyle.

Sarah Orne Jewett reveals several contradictions in the story: innocence vs knowledge, infantilism vs experience, inner conflict vs external conflict, rural vs urban lives. These conflicts capture the reader and keep him/her in tense, waiting for the girl’s choice. 

The author stresses the girl’s childish nature as “she could not understand why he (hunter) killed the very bird he seemed to like so much” (Jewett 4). Each unfamiliar person was an enemy for her and could make harm to her friends, animals. Character of Sylvia is full of contrasts “pale face and shining eyes with ever growing enthusiasm” (Jewett 3). She was frightened by the hunter but the willingness to knowledge was bigger.

Sarah Jewett uses the words of small animals, i.e. “toad”, to stress the infantilism of the girl. This little frog symbolizes the difficulties on the way to success for Sylvia and calmness of many “spectators” who are just observing. On the contrary, the hunter symbolizes experience and knowledge. “The tall young man, who carried a gun over his shoulder” seemed to be rather friendly and not aggressive. Another symbol of experience is an old pine tree whose boughs brought a small girl to knowledge: “There was a huge tree asleep yet in the paling moonlight… she went round and round the tree’s great stem, higher and higher upwards” (Jewett 5).

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Sylvia also thinks about the value of money and its comparison with moral principles. The inner conflict touches her heart. She “watched the young man with loving admiration”. He was so “charming and delightful” that her “women’s heart was vaguely thrilled by a dream of love” (Jewett 4).  They have things in common: love to birds and their own secrets. Thus, they are different – he is a hunter and she is loving nature gratuitously. Secrets have also different aims: she saves the white heron (positive attempt) and he wants to kill the bird for the collection (negative attempt). This is like a fight of goodness and badness for the life of truth and faith. 

The external conflict shadows in the comparison of rural and urban ways of life. Girl came from town a year ago and together with her granny, Mrs. Tilley, lives in harmony with nature: “There never was such a child for straying about out-of-doors since the world was made!” (Jewett 1). Hunter is a typical urban citizen whose goal is just to use nature for his purposes, no matter what could happen next. 

Jewett uses certain devices to make her story capturing. Imagery stresses the childish nature of a small girl and her transformation to a young lady with her desires and feelings. Very simple short sentences stick the reader to the point of the story. This device makes a person be involved in the story and not be distracted to minor descriptions. Nevertheless, a variety of details shows a unique style of author’s writing and beauty of the nature. 

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The author uses stylistic devices to support her viewpoint. The usage of many metaphors explains everything on Sylvia’s way. Each her action is accompanied by detailed description, giving the importance to it. The usage of similes “as long as winter darkness” and “as great a treasure as if she were a desert-islander” stirs to reader’s imagination. Paradox “unquestioned voice” puts an accent on unsettled dilemma.

Critical Approach

The story “A White Heron” by Sarah Orne Jewett is in the focus of feministic ideas. The argument is that there are three female characters: Sylvia, Mrs. Tilley and a cow against one man whose actions prompted another characters to actions. They all have their own viewpoints on gender functions. Some critiques suggest that the rejection of a hunter by Sylvia reveals the Jewett’s desire not to get married and live her life (Griffits 25-26).

Sylvia is a prototype of the author as she lived with her family in New England and the moved to that city made her for some time the outsider in the companies. The hunter is like her father, who had always been the example of good manners and good breeding.

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The work depicts events of the local importance. That’s why it’s called the representative of local realism and gives the story additional charm. The usage of colors, especially grey, refers the story to color realists but the author herself didn’t support that point. The grey color encounters in other works of Jewett. It shows uncertainty.  

At the same time, a reader encounters romantic ideas concerning Sylvia’s feelings to the hunter. The little story combines features of Realism and Romanticism as they go side-by-side. 

The industrialization of her own city made her depict the transformations with her heroin. It proved that to remain bounded with the nature one should follow the everyday struggle for happiness. 


Sarah Orne Jewett with his short story “A White Heron” revealed the main points in the life of every person, especially a woman. She depicted the contrasting points of life and their solution in the girl’s life. The story is worth reading and the impressions from its analysis remains for a long time.


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