A White Heron

by

Sarah Orne Jewett

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White Heron Symbol Analysis

White Heron Symbol Icon

The white heron symbolizes the independence and wonder of nature, which must be preserved against the destructive forces of industrialization and greed. When Sylvia sees the heron’s spectacular perspective on the world from the top of the tree, she makes a moral choice to refuse to help the hunter kill the bird. Her rejection of the hunter’s greedy mission in favor of the majesty of nature shows that attempts to possess nature, rather than simply appreciate it, do not honor nature’s importance. Additionally, the heron is white, the color most often associated with purity, thus representing the purity of nature free from human interference. By sparing the white heron, Jewett suggests the value inherent to keeping nature pure and separate from human violence and intervention. Jewett also proposes a particular attitude towards nature through Sylvia’s interaction with the heron: Sylvia recognizes the value of the heron’s life only after seeing the world through the heron’s eyes and therefore coming to identify personally with its perspective. Sylvia’s identification with the heron mirrors the identification Jewett wants people to have with nature, so that they may recognize nature’s independence and wonder and therefore choose to protect it from human ambitions.

White Heron Quotes in A White Heron

The A White Heron quotes below all refer to the symbol of White Heron. 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

“I am making a collection of birds myself…there are two or three very rare ones I have been hunting for these five years. I mean to get them on my own ground if they can be found.”

Related Characters: The Hunter (speaker)
Related Symbols: White Heron
Page Number: 4
Explanation and Analysis:
Part II Quotes

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:
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White Heron Symbol Timeline in A White Heron

The timeline below shows where the symbol White Heron appears in A White Heron. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part I
Conservation vs. Greed Theme Icon
...he has shot and stuffed dozens of birds. Now, he is looking specifically for the white heron , which he spotted nearby a few days ago. (full context)
Nature vs. Industrialization Theme Icon
Sylvia is preoccupied watching a toad on the footpath, but when the hunter describes the white heron , she recalls with excitement that she knows the bird and had “once stolen softly... (full context)
Conservation vs. Greed Theme Icon
The hunter wants nothing more than to find the white heron ’s nest and he promises that, if Sylvia helps him find the bird, he will... (full context)
Innocence vs. Experience Theme Icon
Solitude Theme Icon
...admiration and fascination as they silently track bird calls. She is “grieved because the longed-for white heron was elusive, but she did not lead the guest, she only followed.” As evening falls,... (full context)
Part II
Conservation vs. Greed Theme Icon
...the ocean. Now she thinks about how if she climbs it, she might locate the white heron ’s nest. (full context)
Nature vs. Industrialization Theme Icon
Conservation vs. Greed Theme Icon
...the fading colors of the sunrise on the clouds. But she still searches for the white heron ’s nest. She looks to the marshlands where she saw the bird once before and... (full context)
Conservation vs. Greed Theme Icon
...wonders how the hunter will react when she reveals to him the secret of the white heron ’s location. (full context)
Conservation vs. Greed Theme Icon
Innocence vs. Experience Theme Icon
...her and the moment has finally arrived for her to reveal the location of the white heron . (full context)
Nature vs. Industrialization Theme Icon
Conservation vs. Greed Theme Icon
...but she remembers the “murmur of the pine’s green branches” and how she and the white heron watched the sea and the sunrise together. She knows she can’t reveal the white heron’s... (full context)
Innocence vs. Experience Theme Icon
Solitude Theme Icon
...for the love she lost and the loyalty she betrayed by not telling him the white heron ’s location. (full context)