Symbolism In A White Heron

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Innocence Lost but Character Same

Sarah Jewett’s “A White Heron” is a brilliant story with many symbols. The protagonist, Sylvia, is a young girl who is at home in the woods. One day a stranger asks for lodging, and Sylvia’s view of life was expanded. This expansion leads to a loss of innocence for Sylvia, however her loss of innocence does not take away from her loyal and loving character. The specific images of the natural setting, the season and time of day, and hunting weapons all contribute to the theme of loss of innocence.

In the first sentence of the story, four symbols immediately arise. “The woods were already filled with shadows one June evening, just before eight o'clock, though a bright sunset still glimmered faintly among the
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Both the trees are contextual symbols of her journey. The pine tree stands “half a mile from home, at the farther edge of the woods, where the land was highest,” and is “the last of its generation” (Jewett). This old tree stands above the rest, and holds the secrets of the world. “Now she thought of the tree with a new excitement, for why, if one climbed it at break of day, could not one see all the world” (Jewett). This tree represents her next step to maturity; however, the journey is never easy. The oak tree is first to be climbed, and the tree is not going to make it easy. The branches weight her down, so much that “she was almost lost among the dark branches” (Jewett). The “green leaves heavy and wet with dew” become obstacles she must pass through (Jewett). “She crept out along the swaying oak limb at last, and took the daring step across into the old pine-tree” (Jewett). Here is the scary shift to the point of no return. Once she takes that step, she is forced to have her view expanded. The pine tree “seemed to lengthen itself out as she went up, and to reach farther and farther upward” (Jewett). Picture the branches spiraling towards the sky. This was no straight, vertical climb. Sylvia had to take the careful time to work herself around the tree, inching her way forward. The great pine became “like a great main-mast to the voyaging earth” (Jewett). The main-mast on a ship is the highest and strongest post. The pine tree is her post of stronghold, something new yet familiar, in her quest. Both trees stand for the pivotal steps in Sylvia’s
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