Critical Reflection: “A Great Main-Mast to the Voyage Earth”

            Upon reading “A White Heron” by Sarah Orne Jewett I noticed a great emphasis placed upon the little girl’s journey up the great pine. This portion of the story truly intrigued me and inspired me to create an interpretive illustration. All along Sylvia’s ascent up the “great pine”, Jewett uses powerful descriptive words which establishes an importance in the perfect natural beauty of the world around us. That being said, along Sylvia’s journey she discovers this amazing beauty possessed by the natural world. For that reason, I chose to draw the great powerful tree with a large nest cradling the world instead of the white heron. I chose to make this rendition to the story because I personally pictured Sylvia figuratively discovering much more than just a bird and its nest. The nest is holding the world to symbolize that through Sylvia’s meaningful expedition she not only found where the white heron lives, but also discovered the precious beauty of the world that is often overlooked. Sylvia learned much about herself and the surrounding world during her strenuous voyage to the top. In my eyes I believe that this message is also prevalent in everyday life. Sometimes in order for people to realize the worth of the world’s natural magnificence, people must first separate themselves from the harms presented by the artificial world.

            Also I chose to only color the world in this work to run parallel with how Jewett portrayed Sylvia’s journey. During the earlier parts of Sylvia’s ascent, Jewett used dark and troublesome diction such as “dangerous,” “daring,” and “monstrous” (433). For me these words displayed a dark and weary journey so I decided to keep the dark grey color of pencil. However, as Sylvia neared the top of her climb, Jewett describes “the sea with the dawning sun making a golden dazzle over it, and towards the east flew two hawks with slow-moving pinions” (443). This diction alone encouraged me to color in the world as if it were the light at the end of the tunnel. Ultimately the tree was described as “a great main-mast to the voyage earth” (443). This sentence allowed myself to imagine the planet earth nestled into the heron’s nest. For that reason I chose to name the illustration “a great main-mast to the voyage earth” (443).

Two Authors, One Controversial Issue

Two stories that are significantly comparable are Russell Bank’s “Black Man and White Woman in Dark Green Rowboat” and Ernest Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants”. Within the two short stories, a conflict is presented between a male and female with different viewpoints from each party. Although the present conflict is never directly stated, the issue within both stories is abortion. Through controversial dialogue, the issue is discussed between the man and woman in both stories. However, the roles are switched within the stories as to who desires which outcome of the pregnancy. Throughout the works, both authors paint the picture that no matter one’s gender, race, or socioeconomic status, individuals face controversial topics with different approaches.
Banks’ short story “Black Man and White Woman in Dark Green Rowboat” is about a young couple discussing the girl’s abortion. They are floating on a boat in a lake near their trailer park. Although the young black man and white girl never directly state abortion, the reader is still able to grasp the disagreement at hand as to whether or not she could have the procedure. In Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants”, an American man is having a discussion with a woman by the name of Jig. This discussion takes place at a train station in Spain and the topic of interest is abortion as well. Their viewpoints differ on the procedure in the sense that the American man has his mind set that he doesn’t want the baby while Jig still has doubt on having the procedure done. Much like the disagreement on the outcome of the pregnancy, the author foreshadows this conflict by adding in the miniscule argument over what the couple will have to drink.
Within the two short stories, there are many similarities in the details of the stories as well as the pictures painted by both authors through use of diction. One key similarity between the two is that they are both discussing the matter of abortion but the word abortion is never said in either story. Instead, both authors hint at the procedure by an uncomfortable tension between the two individuals of the story through use of short and concise dialogue. In fact the most obvious hint used in “Hills Like White Elephants” is the subtle use of the word ‘operation’. The key hint that Banks uses in “Black Man and White Woman in Dark Green Rowboat” are the statements of the girl saying “I’m already putting on weight” and “I told mother” (Banks 64). Through close reading and contextual details, the reader is able to infer that both women are pregnant and the controversy is being caused by the decision of abortion. Another similarity that is present is the presence of tension and outlying arguments between both couples caused by such a grave decision. To add onto the similarity that both couples are struggling to resolve a problem, both authors successful show that viewpoints and desires differ from person to person regardless of one’s race or gender.
While there are similarities between the two that contribute to a final conclusion of the meaning of these stories, differences also present a beneficial contribution. One meaningful difference is the reversal of roles and desires of the characters between the stories. For example, in “Black Man and White Woman in Dark Green Rowboat” the man is not necessarily opposed to the abortion but is not for it either. It is the woman in this story who is determined to carry out the operation. This is seen by when the woman asks “I suppose you’d rather I just did nothing” and he responds “Yes. That’s right” (Banks 65). At first sight this appears that the young man would rather the girl just go ahead and keep the baby. However, as the reading progresses another purpose is seen when he says “I wish I could just leave you here” (Banks 66). This shows that clearly the two are not meeting eye to eye on the matter and that in the end her decision to have the abortion has been made regardless of his viewpoint. In turn, this relates to the setting of the conversation at hand. Being that the story is taking place on a boat, much like their relationship, there is no clear cut direction as to where the boat is headed. The boat serves as a metaphor meaning that much like the direction of the boat, their relationship is portrayed to the reader as a wondering boat with no finite destination or resolution.
In “Hills Like White Elephants” however, it is the man who has his mind set on the woman having the abortion. This is seen by when the American says “But I don’t want anybody but you. I don’t want any one else. And I know it’s perfectly simple” (Hemmingway 419). This statement from the man conveys the message between the man and woman that he is not on board with having this baby. This hint of skepticism upsets the woman but she obviously loves the man and is afraid to carry out any decision alone. Unlike “Black Man and White Woman in Dark Green Rowboat” there is a set destination between the couple. This is seen by the author’s choice of the setting, a train station. Unlike a rowboat, the train station has a definite destination set in place by the tracks of the train. The train station serves as a metaphor to the decision that will soon be made between the couple, to have the abortion or have the baby. The viewpoint of the woman in “Hills Like White Elephants” is completely reversed in comparison to the woman in the other story. This strengthens the scenario and allows the readers to connect the stories to the differing mindsets of two pregnant women.
Within these short stories, two different relationships share a common ground in the sense that they cannot successfully come to a solution over a controversial issue. Although this issue is the primary similarity in the works, the authors are still able to get across a similar message. Overall, no matter one’s race, gender, or socioeconomic status people access and handle similar problems with different approaches.

Adventure Within a Tree

Within Sarah Orne Jewett’s short story “A White Heron”, one passage that holds great importance contains the protagonist, Sylvia, and her ascent up the great pine tree. This portion of the story seems to be the climax due to Jewett’s diction and word choice. The way Jewett portrays this event is with great caution and excitement. During this climb, Sylvia not only learns about her own determination, but she also learns much about the value of natural beauty. The tree is often referred to as mysterious and possesses an essence of divinity. Jewett portrays how the protagonist overcomes an internal struggle while reaching a great feat through the use of literacy devices such as diction, metaphor, and personification.
One way Jewett portrays the importance of this passage is through her precise use of diction. Jewett’s word choice within this passage allows the reader to feel a sense of adventure. This adventurous mood is prevalent throughout the entire story but heightens as the natural beauty and wisdom of the forest is discussed. The author describes how even though a new forest has grown around this great pine, the tree still towers over all other trees. In addition to how massive this tree is, Jewett helps the reader understand how mysterious this tree is through use of diction. She uses words such as ‘dangerous’, ‘daring’, and ‘monstrous.’ These words place the idea that this journey to the top of the tree will not be an easy feat. Once Sylvia reaches the top of the tree, the mood changes from a dreary feel to one of satisfaction. The diction that shifts this mood is phrases such as ‘wholly triumphant’ and ‘golden dazzle’. In addition to shifting the mood of the passage, the diction also allows the author to personify the tree exactly how she wants.
Personification is another literary device that Jewett uses within this passage. This literary device is used within this passage to bring the tree across as another living entity. The tree is given human-like characteristics to stress that it is a powerful force and should not be tampered with. The white heron whose nest is perched at the top almost seems to be mythical. Although Sylvia is not certain that the nest is perched at the top, the anxiety and curiosity driving the ‘gray-eyed child’ leads her to tackle such a strenuous adventure. Through appropriate use of diction, Jewett personifies the tree and is able to change how the reader views it. The tree is seen as a guardian and safe haven to all that live within its branches. The author is able to depict the tree as a mother-like figure possessing traits such as ‘love’ and ‘feeling’. Jewett states, “It must have loved his new dependent” (443). Through the application of these traits, the reader feels a much closer connection with the tree.
Another way Jewett emphasizes the trees importance in this passage is through the use of metaphor and simile. One example in which the author uses metaphor is when she describes how securely Sylvia was latched to the tree’s branches. Jewett elaborates by saying, “with her bare feet and fingers, that pinched and held like bird’s claws to the monstrous ladder” (443). This in turn emphasizes that the little girl possesses a sense of caution but is also feels some comfort amongst her climb. Another way the author makes use of simile to produce a painstaking mood is how she writes about the tree inflicting pain on Sylvia as she struggles to climb. Sylvia’s struggle is seen by, “the sharp and dry twigs caught and held her and scratched her like angry talons” (443). These struggles that faced her on her journey to the top of the pine helped Sylvia realize that nature should not be taken for granted. In turn, Sylvia grasped an understanding of how brittle humans truly are in comparison to some of nature’s wonders.
“A White Heron” is a short story in which the climax is centered on a little girl’s ascent up a great pine tree in search of a white heron’s nest. Jewett portrays the importance of this girl’s adventure through her use of multiple literary devices. The mood is shifted multiple times throughout the four paragraph passage. As the protagonist’s emotions change, Jewett translates these feelings to the reader by use of diction, metaphor, and simile. In an attempt to represent the magnitude and personality of such a colossal tree, Jewett harnesses the use of personification. By use of precise diction, Jewett is able to personify the tree exactly how she wants the reader to picture it. She uses this device to not only create an image, but to draw the reader in and form an emotional connection to the tree. This contributes to an underlying theme of environmentalism throughout the story.