The Rural Privilege In

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The Rural Privilege In “A White Heron” Essay, Research Paper The Rural Privilege in “A White Heron” Sarah Orne Jewett’s “A White Heron” is a brilliant story of an inquisitive young girl named Sylvia. Jewett’s narrative describes Sylvia’s experiences within the mystical and inviting woods of New England. I think a central theme in “A White Heron” is the dramatization of the clash between two competing sets of values in late nineteenth-century America: industrial and rural. Sylvia is the main character of the story. We can follow her through the story to help us see many industrial and rural differences. Inevitably, I believe that we are encouraged to favor Sylvia’s rural environment and values over the industrial ones. Our first introduction to these

competing sets of values begins when we meet Sylvia. She is a young girl from a crowded manufacturing town who has recently come to stay with her grandmother on a farm. We see Sylvia’s move from the industrial world to a rural one as a beneficial change for the girl, especially from the passage, “Everybody said that it was a good change for a little maid who had tried to grow for eight years in a crowded manufacturing town, but, as for Sylvia herself, it seemed as if she never had been alive at the all before she came to live at the farm”(133). The new values that are central to Sylvia’s feelings of life are her opportunities to plays games with the cow. Most visibly, Sylvia becomes so alive in the rural world that she begins to think compassionately about her

neighbor’s geraniums (133). We begin to see that Sylvia values are strikingly different from the industrial and materialistic notions of controlling nature. Additionally, Sylvia is alive in nature because she learns to respect the natural forces of this land. Indeed, this new value is very different than the industrial perspective of other characters, particularly the hunter. Another example of the clash between industrial and rural values comes from Sylvia’s own memories and recollections. Sylvia has been on the farm for a year now, but she still thinks about her industrial existence from a year ago. She wonders if everything is still carrying on in the same way as when she lived in the town. Sylvia recalls her adolescent adversary: the great-red faced boy. I think the

great-red faced boy represents the industrial world to some degree because he frightens Sylvia, and when she thinks of him she wants to escape to the safety of the bushes. Thus, the rural world and nature are a sanctuary from the industrial world for Sylvia. Perhaps this escape parallels Sylvia’s real escape from the industrial world to the sanctuary of the farm. I think Jewett supports this by writing “The thought of the great-red face boy who used to chase and frighten her made her hurry along the path to escape from the shadows of the trees” (133). Again, it is important to consider the woods as a shelter for Sylvia. I do not think that Sylvia is afraid of the trees. Rather, I think this passage seems to reinforce the idea that Sylvia is escaping from the industrial

world, in her memories and in her values. Yet, at this point in the narrative, I still perceive Sylvia as a fearful and timid girl. Mrs. Tilley, Sylvia’s grandmother, supports this perception by saying that Sylvia is “Afraid of folks” (133). Additionally, this passage seems to show us that Sylvia is confined by late nineteenth – century notions of female vulnerability, modesty, and passivity. However, on the farm Sylvia is now free to explore and stray about outdoors. As a result of her life in the farm, we can see many examples of Sylvia’s gradual escape from the constraints of the industrial world’s value system. Moreover, we begin to accept Sylvia as a genuine “little woods-girl “(133). Sylvia wants to protect the natural world and its values, serenity, and