American Women’s Literature
A Story of Resistance
---A Tentative Study of “A White Heron”
In “A White Heron,” an alternative to a civilized world dominated by men and based on their values and interests decided is provided. Jewett has weaved several irreconcilable conflicts between the masculine world represented by the unnamed hunter and the far away village, an artificial women Utopian world Sylvia is living in. Those conflicts between two competing sets of value in later nineteenth-century can be listed as follows: material/spiritual, industrial/rural, scientific/instinctual, civilized/nature, sophisticated/innocent and masculine/feminine. Sylvia unconsciously finished her spiritual journey of choosing the latter ones over the formers. It is a strenuous journey resisting to the young hunter’s money and himself who is epitome both of the outside material world and possible heterosexual love, which is more fascinating for a girl on her way to her puberty. A nine years old girl, Sylvia (Latin word for woods) lives with her grandmother in a farm after moving from “a crowded manufacturing town” where she had stayed for eight years. She seems to be the one with nature, without human playmates, but rather she is more comfortable when she plays with her animal companies throughout the farm. She is so happy that “she never had been alive at all before she came to live at the farm.” Furthermore, Sylvia’s natural world is an entirely female world. There is no man can be found anywhere in her grandmother’s farm. The actual reason why her grandmother chose her from “houseful of children,” is Sylvia’s “afraid of folks. Her grandmother assures her of that she won’t be troubled with them in “the old place.” The only thing in town Sylvia often thought is the wretched geranium. In my opinion, it is a symbol standing for Sylvia herself. She probably before identified herself as a wretched geranium, lonely standing in the yard too. Now Sylvia is in her natural paradise, she feels so sorry to the geranium that “she thought often with wistful compassion.” Another important image is “the great red-faced boy.” Sylvia was scared by him or in other words, by a male. Again why the boy has a red-face? According to archetypes theory, the color red symbolically means “violent passion.”(Guerin et al. 161) All of these clues show that what Sylvia has done before is to resist the urban, male-dominated world and their heterosexual passion. She chooses the rural over the urban. She prefers her grandmother’s Eden without an Adam to the normal world. On the road of driving her cow Mistress Molly home in a summer evening, Sylvia feels the shoal water’s cool touching, listens to the thrushes, birds and beasts “with a heart that beat fast with pleasure.” The scene in the woods is peaceful and pleasant. Sylvia feels “as if she were a part of the gray shadow and the moving leaves.” At that time, she meets a young hunter seeking to find a rare bird named heron. Although Sylvia at first thought the hunter is frightful, she leads him back to her grandmother’s cottage. He is warmly received by her grandmother, Mrs. Tilley, who “gossiped frankly” that her son Dan gone to California and never writes back. Contrary to Sylvia, Mrs. Tilley keeps to stay in this no-man paradise passively. “I’s ha’ seen the world myself if it had been so I could,” she said. However, the hunter did not pay much attention to her complaints. That reflects in a masculine world on certain degree men tend to ignore women’s requirements. What they focus is their own interests and desires. Now, that is the bird a white heron. When Mrs. Tilley boasts that “There ain’t a foot o’ ground she don’t know her way over, and the wild creature’s counts her one o’ themselves,” the man immediately interested in Sylvia. He explains he is an ornithologist and spent his whole vacation searching for a rare bird heron around here. And the hunter would offer ten dollars for the...
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