A White Heron


Sarah Orne Jewett

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Themes and Colors
Nature vs. Industrialization Theme Icon
Conservation vs. Greed Theme Icon
Innocence vs. Experience Theme Icon
Solitude Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in A White Heron, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Nature vs. Industrialization

At the climax of “A White Heron,” the story’s protagonist, Sylvia, must choose whether to help the hunter find and kill a beautiful and rare white heron, or whether to keep the heron safe by not revealing the location of its nest. This choice can be seen as an allegory for the conflict between nature and industrialization. By 1886, when Sarah Orne Jewett wrote the story, both the industrial revolution’s economic promise and…

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Conservation vs. Greed

Just as Sylvia must choose between nature and industrialization, she must choose between conservation and greed. Greed threatens the nature of the countryside (through industrialization, as well as through the hunter striving to possess the white heron as a trophy), but it also promises Sylvia material reward (in the form of the hunter’s bribe) for helping in this destruction. After witnessing the heron from the top of the old pine tree, Sylvia decides to reject…

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Innocence vs. Experience

At the beginning of “A White Heron,” Sylvia lives a quiet, innocent life in the country. But Jewett shows that this childhood innocence cannot last as human interference, in the form of the hunter’s appearance, leads to one gaining wisdom, as Sylvia’s experience with the white heron helps her to make the moral choice of conserving nature. Innocence transforms into experience with complicated results, but Jewett suggests that experience and knowledge are inevitable and…

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Sylvia’s existence in the country is quite solitary, as her only companions are her grandmother Mrs. Tilley and their cow Mistress Moolly. This solitude leads Sylvia to sometimes long for human companionship, but mostly she seems content to be alone with nature. In fact, Sylvia’s positive relationship to solitude suggests that solitude is essential to coming of age, because it allows the freedom to forge one’s own identity and it breeds independence and…

read analysis of Solitude