Tuesday, February 3, 2009

#9 Sarah Orne Jewett - A White Heron

Bila Lee
English 48B
February 5, 2009
Journal #9 Sarah Orne Jewett

“Sylvia still watched the young man with loving admiration. She had never seen anybody so charming and delightful; the woman’s heart, asleep in the child, was vaguely thrilled by a dream of love” (Jewett 526).

Though the length of the story is comparatively short, it covers many critical themes and I am especially fascinated in discussing gender roles. Sylvia and Mrs. Tilley interdependently live in a rural woods, and they are isolated from males until the hunter emerges. As the only male character in the story (even the cow is female), his emergence sharply brings the feminist criticism – the above quotation depicts the Sylvia’s internal feeling towards the hunter that she seems like sexually attracted by him; nevertheless, the plot of the story demonstrates that female also possess the privilege to celebrate bravery, freedom and strength. So I believe one of the central themes is to challenge the genders norm.

Jewett skillfully employs Sylvia as the protagonist. Wikipedia reminds me the significance of nine-year-old for a girl that she “is close to puberty, she begins to have new kinds of feelings toward this young hunter,” (A White Heron) which strengthens the feminist criticism for the entire story. It is also important to set the story in 1886 at the time when male was always predominant over female. Sociologically speaking, gender roles is a concept for what the society expects men/women do and not to do; for instance men are expected to provide manpower whereas women are likely take some gentler tasks. Sylvia, a nine-year-old girl who is possibly an orphan, symbolizes a pure and innocent female who challenges gender roles.

Hunting is supposedly a manly activity but the young girl displays her exceptional bravery and strength to hunt. Jewitt intentionally energizes Sylvia as the female representative to create an idea that women can be as strong as men. Some boy friends of mine are scared of dogs, cockroaches, darkness and ghosts, but Sylvia is oppositely brave to kill with her bloody hands. In addition, Sylvia also expresses a sense of freedom when she follows a stranger hunter. Not only is it awkward to hang out with a strange man but it is also inappropriate to let him enter the house to live. The plot reflects Sylvia, or perhaps Jewitt, is attempting to get rid of the social restriction, and voices that female should also have the privilege to enjoy freedom and to practice what they think appropriate.

The male hunter is interested in hunting and collecting the white heron, he proposes to “give ten dollars to anybody who could show it to me” (Jewett 525). Prior to our class discussion, I did not arrive at an important point that the extravagant “ten dollars” are spent to but Sylvia for some sexual purposes. It is absolutely a sexist criticism that male always believe money and their physical power can help achieving whatever they wish. But the feminist short story asserts and makes a fight-back to deny the hunter from getting the white heron – Jewett wants to exhibit the truth that a little girl is powerful enough to turn a man down, and make him feel frustrated.


  1. 20 points. "Hunting is supposedly a manly activity but the young girl displays her exceptional bravery and strength to hunt." Great point!!!