A White Heron

by

Sarah Orne Jewett

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Sylvia, the protagonist of the story, is a 9-year-old girl living on a farm in the Maine woodlands with her grandmother, Mrs. Tilley. Before moving to her grandmother’s farm, Sylvia lived in a crowded manufacturing town with her mother and many siblings. In town, she felt stifled and bullied, but now she enjoys the company of animals and asserts her freedom to explore nature. Jewett describes Sylvia as a curious, observant, and shy young girl with a “pale face and shining gray eyes” that easily convey if she’s feeling excited, scared, or troubled. The arrival of the hunter disrupts her peaceful country existence, as he asks her to help him find the rare white heron so that he can shoot and stuff it. Initially afraid this stranger, she agrees to help him because she begins to admire him and enjoy his company, feelings that border on romantic. Alone at night, she climbs a tree to locate the heron’s nest. She spots the heron but while she views her natural environment from an aerial perspective, she identifies with the bird and feels a deep spiritual connection to it. She decides she cannot tell the hunter about the location of the heron because she cannot allow him to take the bird’s life. The story ends with her becoming wiser, having made the moral choice to preserve nature, while still feeling regret over the loss of her friendship with the hunter. Sylvia’s climatic choice to save the nature she loves suggests that one should choose to protect the environment even if that experience entails sacrificing other things that matter, like friendship.

Sylvia Quotes in A White Heron

The A White Heron quotes below are all either spoken by Sylvia or refer to Sylvia. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Nature vs. Industrialization Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Dover Thrift Editions edition of A White Heron published in 1999.
Part I Quotes

It was a good change for a little maid who had tried to grow for eight years in a crowded manufacturing town…it seemed as if she never had been alive at all before she came to live at the farm.

Related Characters: Sylvia
Page Number: 2
Explanation and Analysis:

Sylvia still watched the toad, not divining, as she might have done at some calmer time, that the creature wished to get to its hole under the doorstep…No amount of thought, that night, could decide how many wished-for treasures the ten dollars, so lightly spoken of, would buy.

Related Characters: Sylvia, The Hunter
Page Number: 5
Explanation and Analysis:

All day long he did not once make her troubled or afraid except when he brought down some unsuspecting singing creature from its bough…she could not understand why he killed the very birds he seemed to like so much.

Related Characters: Sylvia, The Hunter
Page Number: 5
Explanation and Analysis:
Part II Quotes

Alas, if the great wave of human interest which flooded for the first time this dull little life should sweep away the satisfactions of an existence heart to heart with nature and the dumb life of the forest!

Related Characters: Sylvia
Page Number: 7
Explanation and Analysis:

The old pine must have loved his new dependent. More than all the hawks, and bats, and moths, and even the sweet-voiced thrushes, was the brave, beating heart of the solitary gray-eyed child.

Related Characters: Sylvia
Page Number: 7
Explanation and Analysis:

Yes, there was the sea with the dawning sun making a golden dazzle over it, and toward that glorious east flew two hawks with slow-moving pinions…Sylvia felt as if she too could go flying away among the clouds.

Related Characters: Sylvia
Page Number: 8
Explanation and Analysis:

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 a bird’s sake?

Related Characters: Sylvia, The Hunter
Related Symbols: White Heron
Page Number: 9
Explanation and Analysis:

The murmur of the pine’s green branches is in her ears, she remembers how the white heron came flying through the golden air and how they watched the sea and the morning together, and Sylvia cannot speak; she cannot tell the heron’s secret and give its life away.

Related Characters: Sylvia
Related Symbols: White Heron
Page Number: 9
Explanation and Analysis:

Were the birds better friends than their hunter might have been, – who can tell?

Related Characters: Sylvia, The Hunter
Page Number: 9
Explanation and Analysis:

Whatever treasures were lost to her, woodlands and summer-time, remember! Bring your gifts and graces and tell your secrets to this lonely country child!

Related Characters: Sylvia
Page Number: 9
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire A White Heron LitChart as a printable PDF.
A White Heron PDF

Sylvia Character Timeline in A White Heron

The timeline below shows where the character Sylvia appears in A White Heron. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part I
Nature vs. Industrialization Theme Icon
Solitude Theme Icon
One June evening, a little girl named Sylvia is driving her cow, Mistress Moolly, home through the woodlands of the Maine countryside. Although... (full context)
Nature vs. Industrialization Theme Icon
Mrs. Tilley, Sylvia’s grandmother, expects Sylvia to be late bringing the cow home because she knows how mischievous... (full context)
Nature vs. Industrialization Theme Icon
When Mrs. Tilley first brought Sylvia to live on the farm, she remarked at how her granddaughter was “afraid of folks,”... (full context)
Nature vs. Industrialization Theme Icon
Innocence vs. Experience Theme Icon
As Sylvia continues to drive Mistress Moolly home, she imagines the birds are saying goodnight and she... (full context)
Nature vs. Industrialization Theme Icon
At this moment, Sylvia is frightened by the sound of a boy’s whistle and she abandons Mistress Moolly in... (full context)
Nature vs. Industrialization Theme Icon
As she resumes driving Mistress Moolly home, Sylvia tries not to look at the stranger, who carries a gun. He walks with her,... (full context)
Nature vs. Industrialization Theme Icon
Sylvia is even more worried, believing Mrs. Tilley will be mad at her for happening upon... (full context)
Conservation vs. Greed Theme Icon
The hunter enjoys Mrs. Tilley’s “quaint talk” and he notices Sylvia listening with enthusiasm. After dinner, the three of them sit down in the doorway to... (full context)
Nature vs. Industrialization Theme Icon
Conservation vs. Greed Theme Icon
Solitude Theme Icon
Mrs. Tilley says that Sylvia has the same adventurous spirit as her uncle Dan. Sylvia knows every inch of the... (full context)
Conservation vs. Greed Theme Icon
...of “family sorrow” in Mrs. Tilley’s conversation because he is distracted by his excitement over Sylvia’s knowledge of birds. He says that he has been collecting birds all his life, and... (full context)
Nature vs. Industrialization Theme Icon
Sylvia is preoccupied watching a toad on the footpath, but when the hunter describes the white... (full context)
Conservation vs. Greed Theme Icon
...wants nothing more than to find the white heron’s nest and he promises that, if Sylvia helps him find the bird, he will reward her with ten dollars. Sylvia still “watched... (full context)
Conservation vs. Greed Theme Icon
Solitude Theme Icon
The next day, the hunter explores the woods and Sylvia tags along. She begins to warm up to him because she finds him to be... (full context)
Innocence vs. Experience Theme Icon
Solitude Theme Icon
As the day comes to an end, Sylvia feels the stirring of more mature feelings of love for the hunter. She follows him... (full context)
Part II
Conservation vs. Greed Theme Icon
A half mile from Sylvia and Mrs. Tilley’s home stands a pine tree that woodchoppers spared when they cut down... (full context)
Nature vs. Industrialization Theme Icon
Solitude Theme Icon
Thinking of this tree, adventure and ambition fill Sylvia’s mind. That night, she cannot sleep, so she sneaks out alone. She hears birds awakening... (full context)
Nature vs. Industrialization Theme Icon
Conservation vs. Greed Theme Icon
Sylvia arrives at the pine tree and is filled with bravery and hope as she begins... (full context)
Nature vs. Industrialization Theme Icon
Conservation vs. Greed Theme Icon
Sylvia struggles as she climbs up the tree because twigs scratch her like “angry talons” and... (full context)
Nature vs. Industrialization Theme Icon
Solitude Theme Icon
The narrator remarks that the tree must be amazed by Sylvia’s bravery and therefore must steady its twigs in order to help her. Sylvia is braver... (full context)
Nature vs. Industrialization Theme Icon
Innocence vs. Experience Theme Icon
Sylvia finally reaches the top of the tree, feeling tired yet triumphant. She sees the sea... (full context)
Nature vs. Industrialization Theme Icon
Conservation vs. Greed Theme Icon
The birds’ songs grow louder as Sylvia observes the sailboats on the sea and the fading colors of the sunrise on the... (full context)
Conservation vs. Greed Theme Icon
Sylvia “gives a long sigh a minute late” when some other loud birds come to the... (full context)
Conservation vs. Greed Theme Icon
Back at home, Mrs. Tilley finds Sylvia’s bed empty and begins calling for her granddaughter. The hunter wakes and looks forward to... (full context)
Conservation vs. Greed Theme Icon
Innocence vs. Experience Theme Icon
Sylvia returns home, pale and with her clothes torn and ruined by pine pitch. The hunter... (full context)
Conservation vs. Greed Theme Icon
But Sylvia cannot speak, even as a worried Mrs. Tilley scolds her for disappearing and the hunter... (full context)
Nature vs. Industrialization Theme Icon
Conservation vs. Greed Theme Icon
Sylvia questions why she would give up her first worldly connection for the sake of a... (full context)
Innocence vs. Experience Theme Icon
Solitude Theme Icon
The hunter leaves disappointed later that day, and for a long time afterwards, Sylvia still thinks of him on her nighttime walks driving Mistress Moolly home. She feels regret... (full context)
Conservation vs. Greed Theme Icon
Innocence vs. Experience Theme Icon
Solitude Theme Icon
After a while, Sylvia’s horror at the hunter shooting birds fades, forgetting how he left “their songs hushed and... (full context)
Nature vs. Industrialization Theme Icon
Conservation vs. Greed Theme Icon
Innocence vs. Experience Theme Icon
Solitude Theme Icon
The narrator calls on the gifts and wonders of nature to compensate Sylvia for what she has lost, asking “woodlands and summer-time” to “bring your gifts and graces... (full context)