Childhood connection with Wilderness in “The White Heron”

In Jewett’s “The White Heron,” nature is treated as a wilderness. A wilderness that serves Sylvia as a silent but loving companion. The cow that wanders from while grazing becomes “an intelligent attempt to play hide and seek.” (Jewett 2) She travels with her bovine companion and experiences the darkness and live of the woods at night. The word gray is used to describe both the nighttime woods and Sylvia’s eyes, suggesting that the natural wold was alive within her. For “there never was such a child for straying about out-of-doors since the world was made!” (Jewett 3) Mrs Tilley explains that Sylvia has an almost mother nature quality when it comes to the animals in the area. That they would “feed right out o’ her hands.” (Jewett 9) When the boy-hunter explains what his game is, Sylvia goes on internal journey to the place where she has seen the white heron. Nature is briefly given a voice, but only to Sylvia who dreams about the origin of this voice, the salt marshes near the sea.

Mrs Tilley and the boy both have an estranged relationship with nature. Mrs Tilley to has a love for nature, perhaps a gendered love for nature, since the boy shares little appreciation for it besides the birds he keeps as trophies. Both Sylvia and Mrs Tilly love the “lonely house” set out in the middle of seclusion. Mrs Tilley suggest to that if circumstances permitted she too would have gone and seen the world, as her children, and her grandchild loved to.

The deep level of respect and value that Sylvia places on nature toward the end of the story indicates a important choice. Sylvia chooses not to help the charming and handsome boy, she chooses not to enrich the meager situation with her grandmother and instead protects the heron with her sacrifice. A human turning down needed money in exchange for their consent for the destruction of a single piece of nature, strikes me as a modern and bold function of Jewett’s text.

Advertisements

4 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by bhough on November 9, 2011 at 1:32 pm

    I completely agree that a human’s sacrifice in honor of nature was a novel depiction made by Jewett- one that many writers of the day would not agree with. Your first statements, though, about nature being a wilderness that is a companion, bring up a few conflicting ideals for me. The idea of nature beign presented as wilderness, to me, means that it could not be also seen as a comforting friend. There are definitely aspects within the text of nature as a form of friendship, and combined with the clear respect for nature involving the sacrifice, I don’t know that Jewett was trying to present nature as an imposing and fear-provoking wilderness.

  2. This was very interesting, I would have never pictured nature as a companion for Sylvia without reading your post, but I definitely see the relationship that Sylvia has with the trees and animals – to the point that she trades her own well being to guard theirs like any close friends. However, I have to agree with the above responder that Jewett does not describe nature as a place to be feared it even to some extents seems quite tame. Sylvia is more frightened by the presence of the new comer, of another human life, than she is by being alone in the forest.

  3. Michael,

    Your post definitely stuck a valid point. Sometimes human beings will not follow morals because the are in a desperate situation for money. The young man offered ten dollars. There is no knowing how much those ten dollars could have helped the grandmother and Sylvia. Sarha Orne Jewett says ” Slvia cannot speak; she cannot tell the heron’s secret and give its life away” (Jewett 446). Growing up we are taught to speak up against injustices and to have a voice. However, Sylvia did speak up against the cruelty of the young man’s sport and kept quiet about the location of the White Heron.

    What I find interesting is that the grandmother rebukes her. Adults are supposed to be rational and lead by example. In this case, the tables have turned and it take the innocence of a child to teach us, the adults, that even children can be more rational and more compassionate. Micheal, I do not know if you noticed but the last sentence to this story made me laugh in disagreement. Jewett says ” bring your gifts and graces and tell your secrets to this lonely country child! (Jewett 446). People from the city, who experience the luxurious lifestyle might look at the country or farming life with negative eyes. Even though Sylvia did not have many other human companions she did have the companionship of the animals. Sylvia was not lonely, bitter, or depressed. She felt liberated! Now compare this to a person living in the city who might become a slave to money!

  4. Michael,

    Your post definitely struck a valid point. Sometimes human beings will not follow morals because the are in a desperate situation for money. The young man offered ten dollars. There is no knowing how much those ten dollars could have helped the grandmother and Sylvia. Sarha Orne Jewett says ” Slvia cannot speak; she cannot tell the heron’s secret and give its life away” (Jewett 446). Growing up we are taught to speak up against injustices and to have a voice. However, Sylvia did speak up against the cruelty of the young man’s sport and kept quiet about the location of the White Heron.

    What I find interesting is that the grandmother rebukes her. Adults are supposed to be rational and lead by example. In this case, the tables have turned and it take the innocence of a child to teach us, the adults, that even children can be more rational and more compassionate. Micheal, I do not know if you noticed but the last sentence to this story made me laugh in disagreement. Jewett says ” bring your gifts and graces and tell your secrets to this lonely country child! (Jewett 446). People from the city, who experience the luxurious lifestyle might look at the country or farming life with negative eyes. Even though Sylvia did not have many other human companions she did have the companionship of the animals. Sylvia was not lonely, bitter, or depressed. She felt liberated! Now compare this to a person living in the city who might become a slave to money!

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: