Nov 8, 2017 in Literature

Comparative Essay: “From Old Times on the Mississippi" by Mark Twain and "A White Heron" by Sarah Jewett

In her story, “A White Heron”, Jewett depicts the element of nature and their immediate threats through the eyes of a little protagonist: Sylvia. She stays with her grandmother and has been tasked with the responsibility of herding cows. Her conversance with the different elements of nature seems unstoppable, and her love for birds is depicted in a special manner. Her grandmother says of her;

“Sylvy takes after him," the grandmother continued affectionately, after a minute's pause.     "There ain't a foot o' ground she doesn’t know her way over, and the wild creatures count her one o' themselves. Squer'ls she'll tame to come an' feed right out o' her hands and all sorts o' birds” (Jewett 2).

Notably, her love for the “white heron” cannot allow her to disclose its whereabouts to the sportsman. She does not let greed for money; “ten dollars”, come in handy and sell-out on the bird but rather holds onto her knowledge of the bird’s whereabouts. Her decision for not telling the sportsman’s of the bird’s whereabouts is expounded as below;

“she remembers how the white heron came flying through the golden air and how they watched the sea and the morning together, and Sylvia cannot speak; she cannot tell the heron's secret and give its life away”(Jewett 3).

Thus, it is fair to indicate that Sylvia is able to contain herself and overcome the temptation of money offered to her by the sportsman in order to enlighten him on the bird’s whereabouts. Furthermore, her love for wild-birds and tree-bushes within their habitats made it possible for her to appreciate and protect them.

On the other hand, in his story, “From Old Times on the Mississippi", Twain remains steady and depicts his entire childhood life which revolves him wanting to become a steam-boats-man. The narrator goes further to indicate that the idea of becoming a steam-boats-man was everyone’s dream within the entire town. He retorts that every boy in his village wanted to become a steam-boats-man since they had money and attracted vast attention amongst the villagers. He says of them: “this fellow had money, too and hair oil……….. No girl could withstand his charms” (Twain 79).

The narrator’s immediate friends are overcome by financial challenges. Yates’ does not possess enough money to undertake his duties fairly and even pay for debts owed to some of his friends. Thus, it is safe to postulate that the voyage he undertakes by the River shapes his mode of perception and understands that despite the desire for one to pay-off their debts they owes to others they still cannot do so because they do not have enough resources. This is one of the effects associated with the hurdles of the economy of the time. Twain (80) writes: “Well, the Y’s stand a gaudy chance. He won’t get any further than the C’s in this world…. I’ll still be that poor ragged pilot.”

Similarities of the Two Short- Stories

It should be noted that the two short stories unfolds under the theme of love for nature. In the short story: "A White Heron", Jewett  depicts the distinctive elements of nature by not only providing relevant details deemed useful for describing events but also showcases the dedication put forth by the narrators in appreciating nature in a more passionate manner. The story begins by the following description of nature: “The woods were already filled with shadows one June evening, just before eight o'clock, though a bright sunset still glimmered faintly among the trunks of the trees” (Jewett 1). This is a clear description that portrays the beautiful aspect of nature in the mornings.

On the other hand, the narrator in the short story: “From Old Times on the Mississippi", depicts the love for “piloting in the river. He is fascinated by the steam-boats-man way of life and yearns for the same form of life in his adulthood. Nature is also described vividly by the narrator in order to bring about the elements of both cohesion and love. He retorts of the river; “but nobody to listen to the peaceful lapping of the wavelets against them. The great Mississippi, rolling its mile-wide tide along” (Twain 78)

Another significant similarity brought forth between the two short-stories is the use of metaphors in the course of expounding narrator’s views about the nature. For instance, in the short-story “A White Heron”, Jewett (3) retorts; “This was the best thrift of an old-fashioned farmstead, though on such a small scale that it seemed like a hermitage”. This is a metaphor used to depict the manner for which the sportsman perceived nature and his immediate outlook-change. Twain (77) retorts; “I went meekly aboard a few of the boats that lay paced together like sardines at the long St. Louis”. This metaphor has been used to depict the level of excitement held by the narrator in preparation for his voyage. On a general perspective, metaphors have been used by the authors to provoke the reader’s mental image. Consequently, the two short stories have also used personification in their description of nature and immediate surroundings. Twain (77) refers to the Mississippi River as “the majestic Mississippi River”. Jewett also uses personification when the narrator says of the cow: “the cow taking slow steps and the child very fast ones” (Jewett 3). The use of personification has been used to portray the theme of closeness and love for nature.

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