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A White Heron

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One’s view on something often changes when you look at it from more than one point of view. Morality plays a significant role in any decision making process. It is hard to justify any decision that is not moral. Sarah Orne Jewett’s “A White Heron” has many elements of nature, and of the preservation of what Sylvia holds dearly. The thought provoking short story evokes emotions of caring, loving, and fear. All of these emotions are shown by different settings and characters in the story. It is difficult to sacrifice something that is loved to acquire a personal gain. Sylvia is not willing to disrupt the beauty of the forest for a personal gain. She and her grandmother really do need the reward that is being offered to them by the hunter. Sylvia acknowledges this need, but is not willing to take the life of the pristine white heron for it. The heron is a key piece to the puzzle that is the forest. Without the heron there would be a critical imbalance in the forest. Sylvia realizes that what the hunter has to offer is overshadowed by her care of the forest. The life of a living animal becomes much more valuable when that animal has been seen up close.

The hunter is willing to take the life of an innocent creature with very little thought. This is ironic due to the hunter’s occupation as an ornithologist. Sylvia does not understand how a man could kill the very thing he devotes his life to. Her confusion is shown here: “Sylvia would have liked him vastly better without his gun; she could not understand why he killed the very birds he seemed to like so much” (392). He does not have the same admiration for the forest as Sylvia does. Sylvia sees the heron as a graceful beauty that needs to be left alone. On the other hand, the hunter sees the heron as a specimen that needs to be killed for research. Sylvia did not come to the decision to spare the bird’s life right away. She had a revelation as she was sitting atop a tree in the forest. The narrator describes her revelation: “There was the huge tree asleep yet in the paling moonlight, and small and silly Sylvia began with utmost bravery to mount to the top of it, with tingling, eager blood coursing the channels of her whole frame, with her bare feet and fingers, that pinched and held like bird’s claws to the monstrous ladder reaching up, up, almost to the sky itself” (393). At that moment her mind was made up.

This is when she knew what to do. She was not going to sell out the heron for a reward. Getting payed at the expense of others leaves one with an empty feeling. Love is a key emotion that is brought about in the story. It is first depicted with Sylvia’s feelings for the hunter. On the contrary, she seems to have an equal love for the forest. Both of these feelings of love are strong, however, she can choose only one. Sylvia’s initial love for the hunter is shown here: “What a spirit of adventure, what wild ambition! What fancied triumph and delight and glory for the later morning when she could make known the secret! It was almost too great for the childish heart to bear” (391). Sylvia is quite eager to impress the hunter, and prove herself worthy to him. Her love of the hunter is simply infatuation, whereas her love of the forest is real. She becomes infatuated with the hunter after she hears his kind voice: “I have been hunting for some birds,” the stranger said kindly, “and I have lost my way, and need a friend very much. Don’t be afraid,” he added gallantly.

“Speak up and tell me what your name is, and whether you think I can spend the night at your house, and go out gunning early in the morning” (390). It is the hunter’s warm, welcoming way that Sylvia becomes attracted to. Thankfully her love of the bird is as just as strong. Sylvia’s love of the forest is a blessing for the innocent and defenseless heron. She would not be able to live with herself if she were to give up the heron’s whereabouts. All the weight of this important decision lies in her hands. It is up to her to figure out what to do without help. A personal gain sits right there for the taking, but at what cost? This is the question Sylvia has to ask herself. She must decide on saving the heron, or receiving a reward. Sylvia is infatuated with the hunter which adds to the time it takes her to come to a decision. She also has feelings for the heron and would be hurt if the heron were to be killed. Sylvia’s kinship with nature prevails over her infatuation with the hunter. In the end Sylvia’s love of the heron triumphs over the temptation of the reward. This does not happen without serious contemplation. There is somewhat of a fairy tale ending as good prevails over evil.

Though Sylvia eventually makes the correct moral decision, she encounters many obstacles along the way. Sylvia feared the hunter before she knew anything about him. This is shown by this quote: “She did not dare to look boldly at the tall young man, who carried a gun over his shoulder, but she came out of her bush and again followed the cow, while he walked alongside” (390). The hunter is relentless in his pursuit of the heron. Sylvia’s conscience is telling her what the right decision is, but she fears she could be making a mistake regardless. She is frightened as a stranger describes the heron’s features to her. “I can’t think of anything I should like so much as to find that heron’s nest,” the handsome stranger was saying. “I would give ten dollars to anybody who could show it to me,” he added desperately, “and I mean to spend my whole vacation hunting for it if need be. Perhaps it was only migrating, or had been chased out of its own region by some bird of prey” (390). It takes strength for Sylvia to overcome her fears.

She is faced with the temptations of money and her crush on the hunter. Putting these temptations aside saves the heron. Fear is a difficult part of life that everyone faces, and more often than not, it prevails. To the reader’s surprise, Sylvia does not give into the temptations. She courageously lies to the hunter about the heron’s whereabouts. Sylvia is faced with numerous tough decisions throughout the story. She is able to make the moral choice in the end. Emotions of loving, fear, and caring are repeated all the way through the story. A good story brings out and emotional response from the reader. Sarah Orne Jewett’s “A White Heron” makes the readers of the story wonder what they would do in Sylvia’s shoes. This story is a prime example of tough ethical decisions people are forced to make in their lives.a

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