Study Guide

A White Heron

By Sarah Orne Jewett

A White Heron Introduction

"A White Heron" might only be forty-one paragraphs long, but it packs a lot of story into this small space. We know what you're thinking: Could this short story really be superior to the impeccable acting and stunning special effects of the hit B-movie Birdemic? It may be baffling, Shmoopers, but it is totally true.

Sarah Orne Jewett was already a published author in her teens, making her the literary equivalent to Justin Bieber. Minus the wild parties, of course. Her first piece was published in The Atlantic when she was only nineteen years old and she went on to write countless short stories from her home in South Berwick, Maine. These tales are infused with her environment, bearing the sights, sounds, and emotions experienced in the luscious New England countryside.

First published in 1886, "A White Heron" is one of the most famous of Jewett's nature-themed short stories. It follows a young girl named Sylvia who lives in a small country home with her grandmother. She has a simple life: ambling about with her cow, hanging out with the forest creatures, and getting up to typical preteen shenanigans. But when a young hunter arrives on the scene with a very tempting offer, Sylvia is forced to question whether this isolated rural life is what she truly wants.

This simple, folksy tale ends up touching on a lot of topics that affect the lives of young people every day, including how the innocent can be manipulated by the not-so-innocent, how love can blind us to even the most obvious of truths, and how there's a lot more than meets the eye where nature is concerned.

So grab your hiking stick and take a stroll down the New England countryside with us—this is one trip that you won't want to miss.

What is A White Heron About and Why Should I Care?

Can you remember your first crush?

If you're like us, then that question makes your face redder than Conan O'Brien's hair. Inexperienced kids (like all of us have been at some point) do silly, wrong-headed, and downright embarrassing things in the name of budding love.

In "A White Heron," Sylvia has a very similar experience. Although she's a nature-lover to the core, she tries to become something that she's not for the sake of a young, handsome hunter. Take it from us, Sylvy—it's never a good look to change yourself for the sake of someone who makes your heart flutter.

We won't spoil the ending for you here (though we totally will in the rest of this learning guide), but let's just say that Sylvia eventually realizes who she really is. And that's the thing about trying to be someone you're not: Like the sun coming up after a storm, we can only pretend to be someone else for so long before our true self shines through. Our true colors just don't quit for long.

A White Heron Resources

WEBSITES

Sarah Orne Jewett Text Project
The Sarah Orne Jewett Text Project is pulling a trifecta, featuring full stories written by Sarah Orne Jewett, tons of biographical information, and a spoonful of literary criticism to boot.

Bird Education Network
Do you love birds? Then visit the Bird Education Network to learn a little more about our fine, feathered friends.

ARTICLES AND INTERVIEWS

Sarah Orne Jewett Obituary
It's never fun to read an obituary, but this one gives us a great deal of insight into Sarah Orne Jewett's life work.

"River Driftwood" by Sarah Orne Jewett
This might not be an article about Sarah Orne Jewett, per-say, but the fact that we can access this short story written by her in the 1800s on The Atlantic's website is pretty darn magical.

VIDEO

Put a Bird On It
By it we mean your computer screen, and by bird we mean a white heron.

Reading for the Rest of Us—Episode 4
Although this roundtable discussion doesn't touch directly on "A White Heron," it focuses on other Jewett stories with similar themes and techniques.

AUDIO

"A White Heron" Audiobook
Eyes too tired to do some reading? Click the link and enjoy a complimentary audiobook of the story, on us.