Money and materialism in “the White Heron.”

April 18, 2024
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Money and materialism in “the White Heron.”

The White Heron is a story by Sarah Jewett that has addresses and brings to light several topics and themes through various aspects of the story. One such topic is money and materialism which come up in different contexts of the story such as those relating to crowded manufacturing town, locked cottage door, husks and feathers,  feeding birds her own food, stuff birds, awesome world, good pasturing  for geese, ships at sea and woods and summertime bringing gifts among many others. From the various representations of the theme of money and materialism, the story argues that nature provides material wealth that is greater and more valuable that human-made material wealth.

The story “The white heron” clearly provides that nature provides material wealth. At the beginning of the story, the provision of milk is presented as a worthwhile resource which is given by the creature which refers to the cow. The author provides that, “if the creature had not given good milk and plenty of it, the case would have seemed very different to her owners” (Jewett). Another natural wealth is mentioned when Slyly husks and feathers when inviting the visitor to sleep on the husks or the feathers. Husk and feathers are both natural items from animals. The writer also acknowledges the wealth of pasture by identifying the availability of good pasturing for the geese on the way to the mash. Jewett further identifies yet other natural resources of comfortable dwelling in the New England wilderness. There is also the mention of a variety of game animals and hinting which indicates the availability of animals that provide game meat for the hunters.

The White Heron story is characterized by the association of man-made wealth with violence which further indicates the preference of natural wealth over manmade wealth. For one, the stranger mentions that in his endeavor to collect bird species he collects birds and they are “stuffed and preserved” and goes ahead to pride himself in having “shot and snared” a bird (Jewett). In the locked cottage door that Mrs. Tilley found, a cat with its kittens had been locked in it. The mention of a jackknife being offered as a treasure shows the pride man takes in hunting and cutting game for the meat which indicates the violence of attaining man-made wealth, in this case, the man getting food from animals through brutal means. The bag of wild meat the stranger boy has as he arrives at Sylvia’s home in search of a place to spend the night shows violence to attain the game meat exemplified in hunting. The bloody birds that had been shot further showcase the extent of violence man engage in attaining manmade wealth. The arrow language that Sylvia is warned of by the stranger when the sight the white heron perched on a tree indicates the lack of sympathy when attaining manmade wealth exhibited by humans. The arrow language would have had the white heron fly away.

Furthermore, the book shows that Sylvia chooses nature’s gifts over man’s gifts which reinforce the worth of natural wealth over manmade wealth. Sylvia felt as if she had never lived prior to arriving at the farm and her life in the crowded manufacturing town is described as “trying to grow” showing that the farm life was happier and better for her. The value of manmade wealth was measured by how much treasure, the natural wealth it would buy. When the stranger states that he would offer ten dollars to whoever would show him the nest of the White Heron, the worth of the ten dollars is in the contemplation of how much the treasure the ten dollars would purchase. Although the stranger promises riches and money if shown the white heron and Sylvia and her grandmother are poor, Sylvia refuses to tell the white heron’s secret and have it stuffed. She would rather the bird’s companionship than money. After the stranger left, Sylvia thought whether the birds were better allies to her than the stranger hunter. Whichever the case, she knew that regardless of the treasures she had lost in having the stranger leave and not disclosing the whereabouts of the white heron or received any material human riches, what the woodlands and the summertime would bring were better presents and graces for her (Jewett).

Ultimately, the story shows that eschewing man-made gifts does come with a price. Sylvia chooses to preserve the whereabouts of the White Heron and in turn, does not receive the monetary riches that would be offered in exchange by the stranger and they remain poor in the farm. In winter, Sylvia went as far as forgoing her food to feed the birds when they had no food. Sylvia climbs the tree to great heights to see the White Heroin, but instead, all she sees is the least pleasing ships at sea (Jewett). By choosing the farm and the natural wealth it gave in the form of birds and nature, Sylvia was forgoing a whole other vast and beautiful world, but the farm was worth it.

In conclusion, manmade and natural wealth both exists and for one to enjoy one there was a price to pay. Natural wealth is more fulfilling and priceless while manmade wealth is temporary and ultimately costly to the ecosystem and the natural setting of the world. Natural wealth and gifts are better than manmade wealth, but people hardly take the time to think it through and thus end up destroying nature for human materialism which in the long run is not worthwhile.


Jewett, S (1886). The white Heron in The white Heron and other stories. US; Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.