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American Short Stories Lesson
 
A White Heron
by Sarah Orne Jewett

BEFORE READING

Background

Sarah Orne Jewett, novelist, short story writer, and poet, is best known for her vivid, fictional portraits of life of her native Maine. Jewett's realistic and poetic portraits of the unique values, language, scenery, and problems of her home state have made her a highly influential regionalist or "local color" writer. Through her masterwork, The Country of the Pointed Firs, and other writings, Jewett established herself as a simple, yet sophisticated stylist who gracefully addressed important, universal issues such as the protection of nature, the destructiveness of modernity, and the power of female relationships.

About the Author
Sarah Orne Jewett (1849-1909) was born in South Berwick, Maine, where she would live most of her life. As a child, Jewett played with her older relatives and had a close relationship with her physician father. These mature personal connections would influence her interest in nature, people, literature, medicine, and her hometown—all of which would impact the character and themes of her writings.

With Harriet Beecher Stowe among her influences, Jewett began writing stories to capture the local color and developmental issues of her home state. After the Atlantic Monthly published two of her sketches, Jewett published a series of them in Deephaven (1877). This brought her immediate recognition as a graceful, sensitive, and capable regionalist writer. When Jewett was not in her hometown writing such notable works as A Country Doctor (1884) and A Marsh Island (1885), she spent time touring Europe or visiting her close friend, philanthropist Anne Fields in Boston, mingling in literary circles.

By the mid-1880s, Jewett began to produce her most important works, A White Heron (1886), The King of Folly Island (1888), A Native of Winby (1893), and The Life of Nancy (1895). However, it was Jewett's masterpiece The Country of the Pointed Firs (1896), a series of stories about a deteriorating Maine seaport, that remains her greatest literary acheivement and most influential work.

Vocabulary

1. inaudibly—too quiet to be heard.
2. elusive—hard to find.
3. chafed—rubbed.
4. ponderous—having great weight.
5. perilous—dangerous.

DURING READING

Use the STUDY GUIDE below as a way to work through the selection and improve your comprehension of the essay.

AFTER READING

Answer the Questions to Consider in the book as a way to deepen your interpretation of the selection.

1. Why has Sylvia come to live with her grandmother?

2. Why is she afraid of the young man when she first sees him?

3. What relationship does Sylvia have with the natural world around her?

4. What do you think motivates Sylvia to make the dangerous climb up the tree?

5. Why does Sylvia not tell her grandmother and the young man about the heron?

6. How does Jewett's realism affect the impact of this story?

Bibliography

Sarah Orne Jewett
(Selected Works)

Deephaven (1877)
A Country Doctor (1884)
A Marsh Island (1885)
A White Heron (1886)
The King of Folly Island (1888)
A Native of Winby (1893)
The Life of Nancy (1895)
The Country of the Pointed Firs (1896)
The Tory Lover (1901)
Verses (1916)

American Short Stories
Sherwood Anderson. Winesburg, Ohio (1919).
Raymond Carver. Where I'm Calling From (1989).
William Faulkner. Go Down Moses (1942).
F. Scott Fitzgerald. Tales of the Jazz Age (1922).
Nathaniel Hawthorne. Mosses from an Old Manse (1946).
Ernest Hemingway. The First Forty-Nine Hours and Other Stories (1938).
Henry James. The Passionate Pilgrim and Other Stories (1875).
Gish Jen. Who's Irish? and Other Stories (1999).
Herman Melville. The Piazza Tales (1856).
Flannery O'Connor. Everything That Rises Must Converge (1965).
Tillie Olsen. Tell Me a Riddle (1961, enlarged 1964).
Dorothy Parker. Here Lies (1939).
Edgar Allan Poe. Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque (1840).
Katherine Anne Porter. Collected Stories (1965).
Mark Twain. The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County (1865).
Alice Walker. You Can't Keep a Good Woman Down (1981).
Thomas Wolfe. The Hills Beyond (1941).

 




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