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20100119-11 Jewett (Group 1)

Page history last edited by Tess Cuda 10 years, 12 months ago


     Regionalism, as discussed in the previous class, functions as both a conveyance and preserver of 'local color' as well as a reaction to the movement towards cultural homogenization.  One way to combat this growing uniformity was found in the increasingly prominent magazines.  At the time (1880s-1890s), the primary audience of magazines was women thus making them prime candidates to read and write this regional literature.  Just as other authors of regionalism made commentary on local issues such as slavery in their writing, female authors' writing commonly concerned themselves, the status of women and their rights. 

      "A White Heron," first published in 1886, is a good example of regionalism because Sarah Orne Jewett depicts life in Maine through discussion of the landscape, dialect and animals of the area.  In this piece of work it is vital to recognize that the story is predominantly female because Sylvia and her grandmother are able to live independently in a natural environment.  This challenges the ideology of a female dependence on men to survive and function.  Furthermore, the hunter is described as an outsider/invader, clarifying the protected and somewhat isolated region with which we are supposed to sympathize. Sylvia encourages that sympathy because she, in name and personality, embodies the area's nature. 

     It has also been said that Jewett's attempt to capture/preserve Maine's regionalism parallels the hunter's role in her story as he attempts to preserve through killing.  Sylvia is confounded by the idea of killing something you claim to love.  Similarly, regionalism somewhat destroys what it is attempting to preserve because it is being interpreted and used by the author to some end.  The parallel of Chopin and the hunter demands attention because Chopin's capacity as author controls our understanding of the region, and thus preserves only what she seeks to convey.


Word Count: 298



"Not a bird's whistle, which would have a sort of friendliness, but a boy's whistle, determined, and somewhat aggresive...The enemy had discovered her..."

     This passage places "A White Heron" in the context of an established good side (nature/birds) and bad side (boy/enemy).  A feminine identity is indirectly applied to nature as a whole through the juxtaposition of birds and the boy. By gendering only the male position in this juxtaposition there is an implied binary relationship between birds and boy.  The boy's "determined and somewhat aggressive" behavior is a negative first introduction to the male role.  This negativity is directly applied to the hunter as being a threat to everything which does belong in the rural landscape and thus emphasizing his invasion.  When Sylvia (her name echoing the Latin 'sylvan' meaning forest-like) metaphorically transforms into a bird, her unity with nature is solidified as an opposition to this immediately established "enemy" in the male/hunter entity. The dichotomy of male/enemy and bird/nature/female suggests a masculine threat of taming and/or dominating the female identities in this story, and in a broader sense offers a commentary on the female condition in America.


"Who knows how steadily the least twigs held themselves to advantage this light, weak creature on her way! The old pine must have loved his new dependent. More than all the hawks, and bats, and moths, and even the sweet voiced thrushes, was the brave, beating heart of the solitary gray-eyed child."

          This passage is the aforementioned metaphorical transformation of Sylvia into a bird because she climbs up to heights only experienced by the birds only with the help of the "old pine" tree.  She was more beloved by the tree than the very residents that sang and thrived in its protection.  Instead of being a heavy and intrusive human in the natural environment/ecosystem of a pine tree, Sylvia is a more appreciated presence because of her "brave, beating heart."  Rather than turning over the heron to death at the hands of the hunter, nature has become Sylvia's identity because she seeks out and is received joyfully by the tree.  There is an initiation happening as Sylvia's journey up the tree is described: Sylvia is losing her will to expose the heron's nest by sharing this intimate relationship with the pine tree sought out by the heron too. 


"No, she must keep silence! What is it that suddenly forbids her and makes her dumb? Has she been nine years growing and now, when the great world for the first time puts out a hand to her, must she thrust it aside for a bird's sake?"

     Here Jewett describes the young girl's struggle growing up within a society. Continuing the battle between Nature Vs. City/Society, Jewett shows us Sylvia's struggles to grow up as the "great world" begins portruding into her own. This "great world" is in fact hunter and his influence over Sylvia's behavior. Jewett's description of the countryside creates a pure and youthful area in which Sylvia becomes one with her surroundings. However, in the passage Sylvia has begun questioning this unity because she is forced to choose between nature and society. By calling herself "dumb" she portrays a harsh criticism of herself and nature, but her youthful instincts are sufficient in this situation to overcome her pessimism. In this passage it is critical to read the duplicity of "dumb" being both silent and perhaps deficient in knowledge because she is staying silent in the face of the "great world" and hunter. Her "dumb" or silent response to the hunter's inquiry is what Chopin has encouraged the audience to respect. Placing this passage early in Sylvia's struggle with self-identity suggests a coming of age story, especially when the prompt for this growth is the opposing force of male/city.  The "great world" "puts out a hand to her," by introducing the male hunter into her isolated existence in a natural and female space, and she consistently questions her loyalties to herself as a human and herself as an independent female. Her independent female side seems to win through her silent allegience to the heron and tree.


Key Terms

  • Regionalism - writing that captures, stores, and preserves the customs, culture, language, and way of life of a certain region; a reaction against culture homogenization 
  • Feminism - the advocacy of women's rights on the grounds of political, social and economic equality to men 


Comments (3)

Mary Scott Bennett said

at 8:00 pm on Jan 21, 2010

Sylvy and the Hunter:
Sylvia becomes attached to this stranger, slowly become less afraid and replacing it with admiration. This can be thought of as a school girl crush on the older handsome and mysterious man. She is given the choice between this man and her childish “love” or nature. She chooses nature. Her relationship with the tree which limbs extended for and with her influences her decision. Being with the Heron watching the sunrise formed a lasting bond. She knew she could not break the trust and secret of the White Heron.
“that could have served and followed him and loved him as a dog loves.”
-Jewett adds this to show the role that a wife was expected to play in their time period.

Brian Croxall said

at 10:48 pm on Jan 26, 2010

This is a good start on your first set of notes. In particular, your first paragraph and a half of the summary are especially clear and strong. You provide the context of the magazines without dwelling too much on something that is context rather than at the heart of the class session. After the first two paragraphs, the summary gets a little less compelling. I'm glad that you mentioned the parallel between the hunter and the concept of regionalism, but this could have been fleshed out a bit more--if not in the summary, then in a choice passage. I was also surprised to not see it made clear why the space is predominantly female. This could have been done in a sentence or so, but it seems important to clarify.

You've picked some of the most important passages that we discussed in class. The explanation of the second passage is especially well done. Some of the others don't read as clearly as they could. You want to make sure that these summaries/explanations are as legible to as many as possible. In the third passage's explanation, for example, it's worth noting that Sylvy's being called "dumb" is not the same as calling her "stupid." Rather, she is being silent. Moreover, you have one too many passages. You are only allowed to have three, and I'm going to hold you to that.

I was glad to see you include a definition of regionalism since the previous class session didn't have anyone officially taking notes. The terms are well done.

Brian Croxall said

at 9:49 pm on Feb 2, 2010

I've just reviewed your revisions to this first page of notes. You've made a number of very good corrections: tightening up the summary to cover more of the class's main points; cutting the number of passages; and writing more clear explanations of your passages. I think that the first passage in particular could be written still more clearly so as to get the main points across more carefully. But you're also going beyond some of what we discussed in class, and that extra effort is certainly appreciated.

Jackie and Tess should be commended for their work on revising the page.

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