“A White Heron” Summary, Analysis, and Lesson Plans

Teaching Guide to “A White Heron” by Sarah Orne Jewett

Find a summary of “A White Heron” with analysis and a symbolism review. I even threw in some lesson ideas.

Not a Good Start

The halls were already filled with students one February morning, just before seven o’clock, though a bright sunrise still glimmered faintly among the trunks of the cars in the student lot. A little girl was driving in her Chevy, a plodding, dilatory, provoking vehicle in its behavior, but a valued companion for all that. They were going away from whatever light there was, and striking deep into the lot, but their tires were familiar with the path, and it was no matter whether their eyes could see it or not.

That’s when she plowed into my new BMW that I foolishly decided to park in the student lot. Traumatized, I called in a sub and threw together some “White Heron” lesson ideas that included “A White Heron” summary, “A White Heron” analysis, and “A White Heron” symbolism.

I now share them with you.


This page is a great source of information for anyone wanting to teach or better understand “A White Heron” by Sara Orne Jewett. For even more great information, you may want to check out the Super Duper “White Heron” Teacher’s Guide. It contains:

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    Everything you see here
  • Lesson Plans aligned to the common core, ready to be downloaded and printed out
  • Graphic organizers for each lesson along with answer keys to help you look like even more of a genius than you already are
  • Essay rubrics for 4 different essay topics
  • Notes on theme, symbolism, Romanticism, and Realism
  • A 10-question multiple choice quiz (and answer key) that requires critical thinking and a clear understanding of the story
  • My charm and wit for absolutely no additional cost
  • A copy of the story
  • 32 total pages of pure teaching gold

This thing was created by a real teacher (me) with real students. It’s not one of those highfalutin literature guides the big publishing companies that have no concept of actual students put out and charge half a month’s salary for. These materials are student friendly and teacher friendly. In other words, download it, print it out, make a few copies, and you’re ready to fly with “A White Heron.”


“A White Heron” Summary

I know–you read this story two years ago and don’t quite remember everything. You have 167 essays to grade and don’t have time to read it again. You don’t need to feel guilty for reading this “White Heron” summary.

Sylvia lives on a farm. She hadn’t always lived on a farm. She used to live in the city. She prefers the farm and its solitude and all the birds and animals. Sylvia’s in charge of milking a pesky, wandering cow. One day as she walks the cow back home, she hears a whistle. The whistle belongs to a hunter, carrying a gun, searching for rare birds to kill and stuff.

The hunter offers Sylvia $10 if she can help him find a white heron. Silvia dreams of the many things she could buy with $10. Sylvia also takes a liking to the charming hunter and seeks to gain favor in his sight.

Sylvia awakens early one morning and climbs the tallest tree in the forest in order to locate the heron’s nest. Her quest is successful. Upon her return, however, she does not reveal the bird’s location. Later in life, Sylvia contemplates what she gave up that day. The narrator pleads with nature to reward Sylvia’s sacrifice by revealing its secret.

“A White Heron” Analysis

Enhance you class discussion of the story with “A White Heron” analysis and “White Heron” symbolism.

  • Environmentalism – This story was written long before the environmental movement took hold, but it certainly embraces environmentalist ideas. It also embodies Romantic ideals of nature and individualism.
  • Gender Issues – It’s no coincidence that Sylvia, the grandmother, and the cow are all females living a peaceful rural life when interrupted by the male hunter.
  • Internal Conflict – The main conflict in “A White Heron” focuses on Sylvia’s internal battle of whether or not to reveal the location of the white heron.
  • External Conflict – The story’s rural setting is set up against the urban setting from which the hunter comes.
  • Romanticism and Realism – “A White Heron” embodies two contradictory literary schools–Romanticism and Realism. The story shares Romantic ideals, the importance of nature and the individual, yet its style, use of details, realistic settings, and realistic people exemplifies Realism.

“A White Heron” Symbolism

  • The color white–the color of the heron–represents the purity of rural life.
  • The tall tree in the forest that Sylvia climbs symbolizes clarity of thought. It is from her lofty perch that Sylvia sees all and from this lofty perch that Sylvia realizes the heron’s life is more valuable than $10.
  • The geranium that stands out in the city setting, but belongs in a rural setting symbolizes Sylvia, who belongs in nature. It also represents the suffocating nature of the city in comparison to the farm. The name Sylvia comes from the same root as sylvan, which is a spirit that frequents or lives in the woods.
  • The hunter symbolizes the intrusion of civilization and technology–a common element of Romanticism.

ELA Common Core Standards Covered

The following assignments cover the following ELA common core standards for reading and writing.  You could easily included more standards depending on what you emphasize and how you implement the lessons.

  1. RL.9-10.1 Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.
  2. RL.9-10.2 Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze in detail its development over the course of the text, including how it emerges and is shaped and refined by specific details; provide an objective summary of the text.
  3. RL.9-10.3 Analyze how complex characters (e.g., those with multiple or conflicting motivations) develop over the course of a text, interact with other characters, and advance the plot or develop the theme.
  4. RL.9-10.5 Analyze how an author’s choices concerning how to structure a text, order events within it (e.g., parallel plots), and manipulate time (e.g., pacing, flashbacks) create such effects as mystery, tension, or surprise.
  5. W.9-10.2 Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas, concepts, and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.
  6. 11-12.2 Determine two or more themes or central ideas of a text and analyze their development over the course of the text, including how they interact and build on one another to produce a complex account; provide an objective summary of the text.
  7. 11-12.3 Analyze the impact of the author’s choices regarding how to develop and relate elements of a story or drama (e.g., where a story is set, how the action is ordered, how the characters are introduced and developed).

“A White Heron” Lesson Plans

The era of read the story and answer the questions is over. You can spend many days on “A White Heron.” Here are some lesson ideas with links that will help you teach this American classic.

  1. Try this symbolism lesson plan or ideas from these short stories for teaching symbolism.
  2. Take a look at these lesson ideas and short stories for teaching conflict. On May 6, 2015, there will be a blog post featuring a great conflict chart download. I made it myself, so I know it’s awesome.
  3. Themes from “A White Heron” include coming of age, the hero’s journey, environmentalism, feminism, rural life vs. city life, and more.
  4. Literary minded classes will note that “A White Heron” contains an intersection of Romanticism and Realism.

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Last Updated on March 2, 2016 by Trenton Lorcher

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