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A White Heron A White Heron by Sara Orne Jewett is a story of a girl who was raised in town. The girl one day meets a bird hunter looking for a white heron to shoot. She knows where a white heron is, but is torn between her newly acquired affection for the hunter and her old love for nature and birds. In the story, A White Heron, the main character, Sylvia, goes through a rite of passage. She finds herself choosing between money and the trust of her grandmother or innocence and purity. A rite of passage is a ritual or ceremonial act associated with a change of status for an individual.
During a rite of passage a person goes through three stages. The first stage is separation. In this stage, the person is taken away from their home and familiar surroundings this symbolizes the death of childhood. The second stage is the transition. This stage is a period of testing physically, mentally, or morally. This is to make sure the character is ready to enter into adulthood.
The third and final stage is reincorporation. This is the stage where the character returns to their home with all of the privileges and responsibilities of an adult. During Sylvia's separation she is sent away from her family to live with her grandmother. She leaves a big manufacturing town filled with factories and man-made buildings full of smog and pollution to the natural, green woods where life is flourishing. Her priorities have changed because of what is considered valuable in the different communities.
She went from caring about money and material goods to caring about life and happiness. Sylvia's second stage to becoming an adult is her transition. In the first part of her story, the author establishes a bound between Sylvia and the hunter. It is interesting how at first Sylvia perceives the hunter as an enemy.
Her weariness is briefly justified by alluding to bad past experiences with city boys since Sylvia had spent the first eight years of her life in a crowded manufacturing town. Also the paragraphs surrounding their encounter have a tone that suggests that Sylvia is in danger. Nevertheless, Sylvia desires and needs to be loved by this man, while she realizes that he is not perfect at all. Finally, she makes the decision to help him find the white heron. If she chooses to help this young hunter win his prize then she will be accepted by as a young lady by society that lives to established norms. (Griffith, 23) This will cause Sylvia to lose her own identity.
When Sylvia meets a hunter he asks her to show him where the white heron lives so he can stuff it and add it to his collection of birds. Her grandmother also asks for her help because the hunter is willing to pay ten dollars if she finds the bird. The next day Sylvia goes into the woods with the hunter in search of the bird. She finds something in the hunter shes never had before, a friend. She holds him very close to her being the only friend shes ever known. The first test she takes is a physical test where she needs to climb a tree and then jump to another one to see if she can spot the heron.
The way she felt about this test was described in this passage, The way was harder than she thought; she must reach far and hold fast (A White Heron, 123). She found the heron and was about to face her final test: whether she would tell the hunter or not. The hunter offers Sylvia $ 10 in exchange for locating his next hunting prize, the white heron. She wonders what treasures $ 10 would bring her. The next day she went with him to hunt for the birds, although she can't understand why her new found friend would kill the thing he proclaims to love and admires so much. On the other hand Sylvia is impressed by the hunter.
I think the girl is at an age nine when she is starting to understand what arouses her, and maybe in this case it is not men but she cannot relate her feelings to the boy, or to anyone else. Sylvia has the need and desire to be loved by this man and makes the decision to help him find the white heron. If she chooses to help this young hunter to win his prize then she will be going along with society's norms for a young lady, and lose her own identity. Sylvia has to climb the tree to see the white heron and this is the turning point of Sylvia because when she climbs, she decided not to tell him where the white heron is.
No, she must keep silence! What is it that suddenly forbids her and makes her dumb? Has she been nine years growing and now, when the great world for the first time puts out a hand to her, must she thrust it aside for the birds sake? (A White Heron, 138). She did not tell him because at this time she is alone with the nature.
But when it comes time to tell the hunter, she cannot because her love for the heron is so strong. The nature is important for her because it symbolizes her childhood and she is very familiar with nature. She thinks that she loves this hunter as stated before, but it is obvious at this point that her love for the white heron is greater than her feelings for the hunter. In other words, her belief and love for the environment is greater than any feeling that she could have ever possessed for the hunter. There is a strong undercurrent of sexuality in the story, which is evident in her obvious adoration of this man. She follows him around, listening, unable to speak back to him.
In some parts of the story, we can say that this story symbolizes the confusion of adolescence. On the other hand the hunter symbolizes growing up because he is the girls first love even though the girl is normally terrified of people. Sylvia, being a child, only has animals for friends, and she loves them a lot. If she had told the hunter where the heron was, she would probably feel as though she was betraying the birds friendship besides killing him. That night Sylvia sat with the heron and together they watched the sun come up. Her reincorporation occurred that morning when she returned to her grandmothers farm.
The reader was told that she was not going to tell the herons whereabouts when the author said, She cannot tell the herons secret and give its life away. (A White Heron, 124) The hunter understood Sylvia's situation and supported her decision. The purpose of the rite of passage is to make sure a child is ready to enter into adulthood. Sylvia is more mature now because any child would have given the herons secret to the hunter so that they could get the money. Sylvia looked beyond that and thought about what would be morally right. Sylvia has learned that she will not always have people telling her what she should do and that she needs to make her own decisions even if that means she has to do the opposite of what her friends and family ask her to do. (Renza, 38) The author does a perfect job describing womens roles and places in society and shows social unfair social order that women cannot mess with. A perfect example is when the hunter offers Sylvia $ 10 in exchange for showing his next hunting prize, the white heron.
Sylvia thinks that $ 10 dollars are not valuable; however, she wonders why does she spend time with the hunter and she cannot understand why her friend likes to kill every thing he proclaims to love. Basically, A White Heron is a story of a girl turned womans spirit being set free. Sara Orne Jewett describes womans spirit and shows the conditions under which this spirit had to exist. Jewett's A White Heron is a story and shows us what a great choice the girl had made and that her behavior is a great example of independence. I think that the book is valuable because it teaches people to love nature.
Throughout the story, Sara Orne Jewett shows Sylvia's innate feminist side when she describes the hunters whistle as determined and somewhat aggressive, unlike it was supposed to be a friendly birds whistle. The narrator of the story first refers to the hunter as the enemy and makes a statement that Sylvia dares not to look boldly at the man. This shows how repressed women felt and were at that time and what attitude men had towards women. Bibliography: Griffith, Kelley Jr. Sylvia as Hero in So A White Heron.
Colby Library: Quarterly 22: 1, 1986. Renza, Louis A. A White Heron and the Question of Minor Literature. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1984. A White Heron and Other Stories. Houghton-Mifflin, 1886.
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