Jan 22, 2018 in Critical
Applying Literary Criticism to a Short Story


A white heron by Sarah Orne Jewett is a short story about a Sylvia. Sylvia is a young city girl who comes to the countryside to live with her grandmother. She discovers that she has great passion for the country life. She develops love for the animals that inhibit the countryside. As the story progresses, she meets an ornithologist who is searching for a rare bird. The young ornithologist heard that the rare bird was seen in the area.  Interestingly Sylvia had spotted the bird; she is contemplating whether to telling the ornithologist about the bird is a good decision. Coupled with the fact that she has developed values for all animals, she is not sure whether telling this would be a good decision.

Literary criticism: psychological

All literary work has some secret massages within the story. One should analyze and figure out these massages. White Heron contains underlying themes that are not obvious to all readers and it may need more than one reading to figure them out (Renza, 1983 pg 123). More aspects of the story are revealed with every subsequent reading. First reading would only reveal a naïve young girl and an ornithologist. Deeper analysis shows that there is a direct reference of the story and Greco-Roman mythology. The love triangle within the story and that love triangle of Hephaestos, Aphrodite, and Ares are comparable. However, there are no mythical names in white heron. Despite this, the similarity with the old myth is unquestionable. Critics of the white heron describe the sexual conflict that exists in both stories.

In the Greco-Roman mythology, a follower of a goddess named Artemis has sworn a life of chastity comes under the consideration of an affectionate god. The god peruses her even to her forest home. After chasing her for some time, Artemis transforms her into a natural object. This ensures that she is beyond the reach of the perusing god. Sexual dynamic is significant in considering the white heron. There exists a symbolic conflict particularly when analyzing the feminine and masculine differences portrayed by the main characters Sylvia and the ornithologist. Some critics argue that Jewett is describing the situation in the nineteenth century relationships.

Women are leaving the female life where everything revolves around love and entering into a new world of male dominated heterosexuality. White heron subtly portrays the sex conflict. The inhabitants in the farm are the grandmother, Sylvia and a cow. The cow is named mistress molly. The farm is untouched woodland, which represents the traditional female natural world. Into this an intruder, the ornithologist arrives seeking the rare bird.  In the myth, a god pursuing the huntress represents this. Civilization is encroaching in the traditional world of mothers. However, Sylvia chooses to stay in her grandmother’s farm. In the same way the huntress, choose to remain in the forest.


The reader's understanding of the story can be enlarged if he or she considers Sylvia as the huntress. In the beginning passages of the story, she can be seen hunting for her grandmother’s cow.  Women are faced on daily basis with several issues that demand that they leave their natural setting. It is upon an individual to decide what to do n such a circumstance. This depends on the values that one has developed. For instance, Sylvia had developed love for nature and animals. She not only loved them but also valued them. This is the reason why when she fought with the conflict of whether to tell of the bird’s whereabouts and won. She decides to remain with her grandmother at the natural setting. This is what she had grown to value the most.      


Related essays