American Literature

More Important Relationships

All lives have some point in which they are tested. All people form bonds with their surroundings. At some point in time, one must decide what is important in life. In "A White Heron," Sarah Orne Jewett describes a young girls' encounter with loyalty and its consequences. She makes a decision to uphold and respect nature and its mysteries, despite the allure of money and her ideas of love.

The main character, Sylvia, was a girl from the city, brought to the country to help Mrs. Tilley, her grandmother, with work at the farm. She had been afraid of people, and she felt "as if she had never been alive at all before she came to live at the farm" (Jewett, pg.?). She spent hours in the woods enjoying herself and feeling as though she were a part of it. According to her grandmother, Silvia knew every foot of ground, and the wild animals "counts her one o' themselves" (Jewett, pg?). She would feed squirrels out of her hand, and birds hung around the house waiting to be fed. Mrs. Tilley compared her to her uncle, who was a "great wand'rer." This indicates a very strong bond with nature, and a bond such as that is not easily broken. It had saved her from a crowded manufacturer's town and gave her so much to think about.

When a wandering ornithologist came by, Sylvia was, at first, terrified of him, as she was apparently with most people. However, Mrs. Tilley allowed him to stay at their house, and Sylvia learned that he was usually a kind man. He made an effort to be kind and friendly with her, so she admired him. She was "vaguely thrilled by a dream of love" (Jewitt). Shy people are often neglected by others because of their lack of social skills or enthusiasm, so it is understandable why Silvia would feel so close to a man she only just met.

The man offered her ten dollars if she could help him locate the nest of a white heron, a majestic and elusive bird she had seen on occasion. Silvia "could not understand why he killed the very birds he seemed to like so much" (Jewitt). However, she trusted the man – he had given her a jack-knife and told her all about the birds – and ten dollars was a lot of money at that time, so she planned on finding the bird for him. Hoping for the admiration she would receive from him, she climbed to the top of the tallest pine tree and felt as if she could see the world. The bird perched itself near her. Its mate was in the nest, and it left when cat-birds landed nearby.

Sylvia felt as though the bird shared its secret with her. She had seen the world from his height, his eyes. So, when it came time to share her secret with his hunter, she could not do it. She could not just "give its life away" (Jewitt). Sometimes, the most important relationships in life are not the traditional human ones. She found that her loyalty lived more with a creature with whom she had shared an experience and from whose eyes she had seen than with a man who offered money for nothing more than taking life needlessly from such a majestic creature.