Critical Essays On Sarah Orne Jewett

Critical Analysis of White Heron Essay

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Critical Analysis of White Heron

The White Heron is a spiritual story portraying great refinement and concerns with higher things in life. A 9 year old girl once isolated in the city found fulfillment in a farm surrounded by nature. Too those less unfortunate, money charm and other attractions can be intoxicated; Sylvia did not bite. She could have helped her situation and found a way to wealth but in the end she realized that it wouldn’t help her to be the person she wanted to be. This paper will illustrate a critical analysis of the story of White Heron and focus on the relationship between the literary elements of the story, plot, characterization, style, symbolism and women’s concerns that are specific to this period.

Plot…show more content…

As she is developing, she is tantalized by the societal norms he represents. She is ready to give up the backwoods (a symbol of herself) for all he (a symbol of society) has to offer. Convinced of that, she sets off to find the secret of the elusive white heron and in order to find the heron, she had to climb to what was literally the top of the world for her, the top of the pine tree. The world from the top was different than the city and it was different from the woods at ground level. From the top her perspective about the world changed, it was vast and awesome, and she understood her place in it more than before. She understood it to mean more than to sacrifice her own self for the gifts this man had to offer that were tantalizing but incapitable with her personality and true self.
The motive behind the hunter is he wants to shoot birds, study them and stuff them. QUOTE. The young hunter is not a bad person except he kills birds. Interesting he does not see the irony that he likes birds so much that he kills them. Sylvia is a young but matured 9 year old not conflicted between leaving the city and coming to a rural area but conflicted between nature and a charming young man although in the end Sylvia stays true to her own

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date: 10 March 2018

Jewett, Sarah Orne

“In the life of each of us, I said to myself, there is a place remote and islanded, and given to endless regret or secret happiness; we are each the uncompanioned hermit and recluse of an hour or a day.” As we see in this observation, the unnamed female narrator in Sarah Orne Jewett's masterpiece, The Country of the Pointed Firs (1896), often stands back from the community of Dunnet Landing, Maine, which she visits during one idyllic summer, to ponder her place in the world. In this passage about Poor Joanna, a woman betrayed by her fiancé, readers see the contemplative side of the writer and her accepting attitude toward self-sufficiency. In an encounter between the herbalist Mrs. Todd and her visiting friend, Mrs. Fosdick, we obtain a more uncomfortable view of isolation; here the narrator feels like an outsider, especially when Mrs. Fosdick asserts that “Conversation's got to have some root in the past, or else you've got to explain every remark you make, an' it wears a person out.” Mrs. Todd's reply reassures the narrator, welcoming her and, by proxy, the reader into the community: “Yes'm, old friends is always best, 'less you can catch a new one that's fit to make an old one out of.”

When juxtaposed, these passages intimate the many productive tensions that weave through the writer's work, including those between community and the individual, the country and the city, native and visitor, and working people and elites. Exploring topics encompassing travel, home, friendship, independence, hospitality, the outsider, work, and friendship, Jewett's wide-ranging work includes adult and children's fiction, autobiographical and historical sketches, advice writing, and poetry, although much of her writing crosses traditional genre categories. Today most readers consider her two Dunnet Landing novels, Deephaven (1877) and Country of the Pointed Firs, and her England short fiction, to represent her most engaging work. One of her signature themes, friendship, suggests the writer's characteristically hospitable approach: as she constructs an eloquently elegiac portrait of a vanishing way of life, she attempts to enable readers to participate in her rural communities.

Early Life

Sarah Orne Jewett was born in the coastal New England village of South Berwick, Maine, on 3 September 1849, the second of three daughters of Dr. Theodore H. Jewett and Caroline Perry Jewett. Both parents' families were affluent and respected; Dr. Jewett's father, a sea captain and shipowner in Berwick, profited from the West India trade, while Caroline Perry came from a prominent Exeter, New Hampshire, family of statesmen, bankers, and public servants. Jewett's grandparents and their social connections offered ample imaginative resources for a fledgling writer; at their homes, Jewett heard the conversation of seamen, physicians, lawyers, judges, editors, and politicians. Many of these visitors and their wives had not only survived the American Revolution, they would also endure the Civil War, the aftermath of which Jewett explores in Decoration Day and A War Debt. Captain Jewett's country store offered another informal schoolroom. In “Looking Back on Girlhood,” the writer appreciates her “contact with the up-country people as well as with the sailors and shipmasters.… I used to linger about the busy country stores, and listen to the graphic country talk. I heard the greetings of old friends, and their minute details of neighborhood affairs, their delightful jokes.” Supplemented by her visits as a young girl with her respected physician father on calls to local families, this “country talk” would delight her readers in periodicals ranging from the Atlantic Monthly to the Congregationalist.

Frequently ill with rheumatoid arthritis as a child, Jewett preferred these forms of schooling even to that which she received at the elite Berwick Academy from 1861 to her graduation in 1865. The Civil War left the Jewetts relatively unscathed and even more affluent, and it transformed Berwick into a prosperous commercial center before its eventual decline later in the century. With rail and steamer connections to Boston and Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and to the elite mountain and lake resorts in New Hampshire, Berwick provided a stimulating crossroads for its residents. Both appreciative of and skeptical of these social and economic transformations, Jewett would seek to preserve the strengths of the past and to negotiate the inevitable changes of the present and future. This negotiation included her rejection of marriage and an emphasis on friendship, especially with women, an emphasis reflected repeatedly in her writing, from her early novel, Deephaven, to the late collection, The Queen's Twin and Other Stories (1899). It also included a reevaluation of her spiritual life, culminating in her departure from her family's Congregational church and membership in St. John's Episcopal Church in Portsmouth. Reflecting this religious interest, her first stories—especially those for children—tended to have a slightly greater emphasis on a moral, while later ones focused more on spirituality; but Jewett could be wickedly sharp about insincere religion, as The Courting of Sister Wisby and The Guest of Mrs. Timms demonstrate. A precocious writer, in her late teens Jewett published her first story, Jenny Garrow's Lovers (1868), told from the perspective of an aging woman friend, a frequently repeated aesthetic stance that reflected her lifelong interest in and commitment to the tradition represented by the elderly.

Portrait of the Artist as a Young Woman

The Civil War and its aftermath caused disconnections, as many of Jewett's friends married or left Berwick, some going west or to the city to seek greater opportunity. Although she valued the insight and authenticity of childhood perspectives, as her first collection of children's stories, Play Days (1878), reveals, the writer appreciated the desire for personal growth, traveling to visit friends and family in New England, Canada, Philadelphia, and the West. In The Hiltons' Holiday, a boyish farmer discusses with his wife the need to expose their two happy daughters to the larger world: “Contented ain't all in this world; hopper-toads may have that quality an' spend all their time a-blinkin'. I don't know's being contented is all there is to look for in a child. Ambition's somthin' to me.” Jewett's own ambitions soared with the publication in 1873 of The Shore House, her second story for the prestigious Atlantic Monthly (her first was Mr. Bruce, published in 1869). Forming part of the collection that would become Deephaven, “The Shore House” invokes characteristic themes, from the enduring values of rural life to the importance of intimate relationships between women. Deephaven also frames the narrative with the motif of city travelers coming to visit a rural community as a means of self-discovery, a motif repeated in The Country of the Pointed Firs. In such short fiction as The King of Folly Island, The Life of Nancy, and The Foreigner, Jewett again explores the complicated connection between “stranger” and “native.” Reemphasizing her appreciation for tradition and community, Old Friends and New (1879) also explores such subjects as the relationship between aging friends and family members, and the urgent financial problems of elderly women.

Beginning in 1881, Jewett herself negotiated between the roles of stranger and native in her long-term intimate relationship with the widow of publisher James T. Fields, Annie Adams Fields, a poet, social activist, and benefactor of the arts. The pair traveled extensively, and when they were in the United States, Jewett divided her time between Annie's lively households in Boston and Manchester, Massachusetts, and her own home in Maine, enjoying the sophistication of city life but retreating to the latter to create. This enduring relationship anchored the writer, for Jewett's beloved father—whom she memorialized in the character of Dr. Leslie in A Country Doctor (1884), her novel about a young woman's struggle to become a physician—died in 1878. Her best and most characteristic fiction and nonfiction began to emerge from the inception of her relationship with Fields. Country By-ways (1881) seamlessly combines fiction and nonfiction. An Autumn Holiday mediates between genres as it begins with Jewett's account of visiting with aged neighbors who tell the story of Miss Dan'el Gunn, another elderly neighbor who believes he is his sister and—hilariously—wears her clothes to church. Conveyed through a character's affable storytelling, this narrative embodies the genial humor typifying much of Jewett's best writing, including The Country of the Pointed Firs and The Passing of Sister Barsett.

An October Ride and An Autumn Holiday also suggest the central role of nature in Jewett's oeuvre; in the former Jewett confides, “The relationship of untamed nature to what is tamed and cultivated is a very curious and subtle thing to me; I do not know if every one feels it so intensely.” Included in her volume A White Heron and Other Stories (1886), the short story “A White Heron”—about the conflict between a young country girl who wants to protect a beautiful heron and a hunter who wants to kill and stuff it—remains a classic of the American nature writing tradition. This collection also explores the consequences of aging gentility combined with country naiveté in her wry portrait “The Dulham Ladies,” about elderly sisters who visit a nearby town to obtain mismatched hairpieces to cover their balding heads. Class relations, especially the disparity between individuals of different social classes, figured significantly from the beginning of Jewett's career, with Deephaven portraying a wide range of characters, and “The Best China Saucer” in Play Days demonstrating the danger and allure of the working-class girl. Here the “good girl” protagonist, Nelly, ignoring her mother's admonition not to play with Jane, the daughter of a working neighbor woman, is at a loss in the face of Jane's hunger and subversive imagination (she makes a necklace of live flies). Rural poverty frequently provoked Jewett to create pairs of older women characters, one more affluent and one struggling, to depict a necessary process of self-examination for the wealthier women and to suggest their responsibility to help their less fortunate counterparts, as we see in The Town Poor, “The Passing of Sister Barsett,” and Miss Tempy's Watchers.

Full Flower: Jewett's Later Career

With Fields's companionship, love, and support, Jewett's work flourished, and the years between the relationship's inception and the publication of her masterpiece, The Country of the Pointed Firs, witnessed the publication of a collection or novel on average nearly every year. Following her father's admonition, “Don't try to write about people and things, tell them just as they are!,” Jewett joined an elite group of realist writers that included Rose Terry Cooke, Mary E. Wilkins Freeman, William Dean Howells, Mark Twain, and Kate Chopin. As its title indicates, Strangers and Wayfarers (1890) continued her interest in both the traveling “stranger” and the “native.” A Winter Courtship humorously delineates the quirky engagement of an elderly mail carrier and his passenger, while In Dark New England Days reflects Jewett's gloomier side, exploring the results of a mysterious theft on two elderly sisters and their community. Going to Shrewsbury recounts the dislocation of an elderly woman from her home to a relative's home; although the concerned narrator fears for Mrs. Peet's comfort and happiness, she flourishes in the town environment.

As “Going to Shrewsbury,” The Hiltons' Holiday, Andrew's Fortune, The King of Folly Island, and A Business Man underscore, the tension between country and city, as well as the challenges and compensations of life in the business world, comprise another important theme in Jewett's work. The Gray Mills of Farley ponders the uneasy and unequal relationship between labor and management. In this important late (1898) story, Jewett depicts how a mill agent, an orphan from a working-class family, negotiates between owners and millworkers in a hierarchical system governed by the owners' greed. One of the most subtle depictions of country-city relations emerges in The Country of the Pointed Firs, where the privileged writer-narrator initially sequesters herself from the community in the village schoolhouse but is lured into social interaction by the strong character of Mrs. Todd and her neighbors. This narrative mutes significantly the class tensions that we see in its precursor, Deephaven, or in such short fiction as “The Town Poor” and The Flight of Betsey Lane. Jewett's idealized portrait of Mrs. Todd's mother, Mrs. Blackett, who lives alone with her son William on Green Island, compares to such sketches as “The Queen's Twin,” a Dunnet Landing narrative, and Aunt Cynthy Dallett from The Queen's Twin and Other Stories (1899); in each, Jewett gives a profoundly sympathetic portrait of hospitable elderly women living alone or reliant on their relationships with other women (or on feminized men, as is the case with William).

As the cross-dressing of Captain Daniel Gunn in An Autumn Holiday also suggests, gender identity forms another crucial strand throughout Jewett's work. Like William, Elijah Tilley in The Country of the Pointed Firs represents an appealing combination of masculine and feminine: he knits and nets, keeps house and captains his own small boat. The earlier story Tom's Husband recounts the relationship between a man who keeps house and his wife who runs their business; as Jewett humorously describes Mary Wilson, “She was too independent and self-reliant for a wife; it would seem at first thought that she needed a wife herself more than she did a husband.” Nan Prince in A Country Doctor is similarly independent, feeling cramped by cultural expectations of marriage and more inclined toward a “man's” profession of medicine. These depictions reflect Jewett's understanding from early on, especially from her father and her maternal grandfather, that any vocation was possible for her. Jewett's accounts of married life range widely, with her early story Mr. Bruce seeming to celebrate marriage but also questioning the hierarchies of class structure and how they affect marriage in the ostensibly classless United States. With gentle humor, such later stories as The Taking of Captain Ball, All My Sad Captains, A Second Spring, and The Courting of Sister Wisby depict relatively powerful older women in relation to disadvantaged suitors and husbands.

Strangers and Wayfarers also suggests the writer's interest in foreigners, as we see in one of her most interesting and controversial stories, “The Foreigner” (Atlantic Monthly, 1900). Here, a Maine sea captain marries and brings to Dunnet Landing a French-Catholic woman of mysterious background and demeanor. The “natives” are suspicious, and the story itself calls into question the meaning and value of racial and cultural identity. Even in The Country of the Pointed Firs, we see glimpses of “the other”: Mari' Harris is described (troublingly to today's readers) as looking like a “Chinee,” and the Native Americans that once populated Poor Joanna's Shell-Heap Island emerge in portraits at once romantic and troubling. Elsewhere in her work, Native-American, French-Canadian, Irish, and African-American characters surface, sometimes stereotypically and at others sympathetically. Her last work includes such Irish stories as Where's Nora and Bold Words at the Bridge; many of these were most likely inspired by a visit to Ireland with Annie Fields in 1882.

One theme consistent throughout her work, but emerging perhaps most explicitly in Martha's Lady—from her last collection, The Queen's Twin and Other Stories—parallels her lifelong alliances with other women, including prominent nature writer and poet Celia Thaxter, artist and designer Sarah Wyman Whitman (who created many of the covers for Jewett's work), and lesbian novelist Willa Cather, as well as Fields herself. In “Martha's Lady,” Helena Vernon comes from Boston to visit an older relative whose maid is the unpromising and “tall, ungainly” Martha, who is “dull and indifferent to everyone else” but “showed a surprising willingness and allegiance to the young guest.” Although Helena eventually leaves the village to marry, she returns years later to find that her earlier kindness and understanding had sparked Martha's devotion and love, which culminates in her startled recognition, “‘Oh, my dear Martha!’ she cried, ‘won't you kiss me good-night? Oh, Martha, have you remembered like this, all these long years!’”

Jewett wrote little after a carriage accident in 1902, but Fields's own devotion to Jewett continued, even after the writer's death following a stroke in 1909, and she edited a collection of Jewett's letters published in 1911. The subject of continued interest, not least for its crossing of boundaries and aesthetic experimentation, Jewett's work provides readers with a bridge to rural New England communities and people, ideal and real, in portraits that inspired famous contemporaries like Alice Brown to assert, “No such beautiful and perfect work has been done for many years; perhaps no such beautiful work has ever been done in America.”


Deephaven (1877)Find this resource:

Play Days: A Book of Stories for Children (1878)Find this resource:

Old Friends and New (1879)Find this resource:

Country By-ways (1881)Find this resource:

A Country Doctor (1884)Find this resource:

The Mate of the Daylight, and Friends Ashore (1884)Find this resource:

A Marsh Island (1885)Find this resource:

A White Heron and Other Stories (1886)Find this resource:

The King of Folly Island, and Other People (1888)Find this resource:

Tales of New England (1888)Find this resource:

Betty Leicester: A Story for Girls (1890)Find this resource:

Strangers and Wayfarers (1890)Find this resource:

A Native of Winby and Other Tales (1893)Find this resource:

The Life of Nancy (1895)Find this resource:

The Country of the Pointed Firs (1896)Find this resource:

Betty Leicester's Christmas (1899)Find this resource:

The Queen's Twin and Other Stories (1899)Find this resource:

The Tory Lover (1901)Find this resource:

The Letters of Sarah Orne Jewett (1911)Find this resource:

Verses, Printed for Her Friends (1916)Find this resource:

Letters (1967)Find this resource:

The Uncollected Short Stories of Sarah Orne Jewett (1971)Find this resource:

Novels and Stories (1994)Find this resource:

The Irish Stories of Sarah Orne Jewett (1996)Find this resource:

The Complete Poems of Sarah Orne Jewett (1999)Find this resource:

Further Reading

Alaimo, Stacy. Undomesticated Ground: Recasting Nature as Feminist Space. Ithaca, N.Y., 2000. Discusses Jewett in the context of nature writing and ecofeminism.Find this resource:

Blanchard, Paula. Sarah Orne Jewett: Her World and Her Work. Reading, Mass., 1994.Find this resource:

Brodhead, Richard H. Cultures of Letters: Scenes of Reading and Writing in Nineteenth-Century America. Chicago, 1993. Considers Jewett's status as a major or minor writer in the context of regionalism.Find this resource:

Brooks, Van Wyck. New England: Indian Summer, 1865–1915. Chicago, 1984.Find this resource:

Cary, Richard, ed. Appreciation of Sarah Orne Jewett: 29 Interpretive Essays. Waterville, Maine, 1973. Includes early book reviews as well as mid-century and later critical essays.Find this resource:

Donovan, Josephine. New England Local Color Literature: A Women's Tradition. New York, 1983. One of the earliest feminist reappraisals of the writer.Find this resource:

Howard, June, ed. New Essays on The Country of the Pointed Firs. New York, 1994. Places Jewett in the context of discussions of regionalism and nationalism; includes essays critical of her political stance.Find this resource:

Kilcup, Karen L., and Thomas S. Edwards, eds. Jewett and Her Contemporaries: Reshaping the Canon. Gainesville, Fla., 1999. Wide range of essays that consider Jewett in her social, cultural, historical, and aesthetic contexts.Find this resource:

Matthiessen, F. O. Sarah Orne Jewett. Boston, 1929. An early view of the writer by a prominent literary critic and relative.Find this resource:

Nagel, Gwen L. ed. Critical Essays on Sarah Orne Jewett. Boston, 1984.Find this resource:

Renza, Louis A. “A White Heron” and the Question of Minor Literature. Madison, Wis., 1984.Find this resource:

Sherman, Sarah Way. Sarah Orne Jewett: An American Persephone. Hanover, N.H., 1989. Important critical biography.Find this resource:

Silverthorne, Elizabeth. Sarah Orne Jewett: A Writer's Life. Woodstock, N.Y., 1993.Find this resource:

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