Nature versus Modernity in Orne’s “A White Heron”

In short story “A White Heron”, Sarah Orne Jewett represents the conflicts in different levels. At the surficial level there is the conflict between Sylvia and the hunter. Besides, there is the story presents Sylvia’s internal dilemma whether to reveal the location of the white heron. Next, there is the conflict between rural and urban setting, nature and modernity and money and humanity.

The nature has been personified many times in the story. Examples are: “It must truly have been amazed”, “It felt this determined spark of human spirit”, “The old pine must have loved his new dependent”.

Sylvia, a nine year girl rejects the hunter’s proposal and refuses to help him. The hunter “carried a gun over his shoulder” was from the city and his main purpose was to collect different birds for his collection. He is interested in White Heron and ask help from Sylvia to kill it. In addition, the hunter promised Sylvia to provide money, “he can make them rich with money”.

Though initially, attracted and agreed by hunter’s proposal, Sylvia changes her mind later. The writes asks reader, “No, she must keep silence! What is it that suddenly forbids her and makes her dumb?” After Sylvia climbs at the top of the gigantic tree to find white heron, she changes her mind. “She cannot tell the heron’s secret and give its life away.”

Both Sylvia and hunter love nature but the way they love is completely different. “She remembers how the white heron came flying through the golden air and how they watched the sea and morning together”. Sylvia loved nature as her life but for hunter nature was one of the commodities to earn money. The motive behind his visit was to kill birds.

Now the hunter returns without completing his mission after her rejection. This is how Sylvia saves the life of white heron. Life remains if nature is saved. Initially, tempted by the monetary proposal, Sylvia finally takes the side of nature.

The money hunter promised symbolizes modern world’s one of the ways to engulf traditional, natural and rural setting. The hunter himself is the symbol of threat to nature. Sylvia can be viewed as a nature lover.

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