The stories of Sylvia and Ree are more or less alike, mainly because they are young girls going through a phase of “growing up” whereby they are enlightened of new aspects of life. Although the stories have different setups, the protagonists have both similarities and differences in their way. Therefore, this paper aims at examining and discussing the comparisons between Sylvia (A White Heron) and Ree (Winter’s Bone). The contrasts look at their relationships with their families, physical environment, association with men, and differences in rites of passage.
How They Respond to Danger
While Ree’s world is nothing compared to Sylvia’s in terms of dangerous encounters, Sylvia still has to deal with threatening situations. For instance, when she first meets the hunter (ornithologist), his gun reminds her of a “red-faced boy who would chase and terrify her” (1:4) while she lived in the city. Sylvia is thus cautious; however, her cautionary instincts are blinded by the hunter’s “attractive qualities” (1:5); she even considers directing him towards the white heron. She, later on, overcomes the danger by opting to protect the heron.
On the other hand, Ree’s world is perilous and, unlike Sylvia, she is forced to do crazy and dangerous things. For instance, despite Gail’s warning, she returns to Thump Milton’s house. Here, Merab and two other women beat her mercilessly until she is unconscious. In responding to these types of dangers, Ree has no alternative but to face them; otherwise, they will lose their house to the bondsman.
Nonetheless, Ree does not involve herself with the dangerous drugs (crack and weed) her uncle Teardrop keeps trying to give her. Therefore, both Sylvia and Ree respond to dangers by following their instincts, which, despite temptations, prevent them from further dangerous situations.
Their Relation to Physical Environment
Although she was raised in the city for the first eight years of her life, Sylvia was never comfortable with the “crowded manufacturing town” (1:2), and thus she relished living in the countryside with her grandmother. She particularly loved the feeling of “heart to heart with nature” (2:3). Even though the hunter’s proposal for ten dollars to show him the white heron was tempting, Sylvia refused to cave in, and instead preferred to keep her allegiances to nature. Sylvia’s decision was “awakened” when she climbed the oak tree to look for the white heron. The sight of the beautiful bird made Sylvia realize her superficiality, and thus she resorted back to her love of nature.
On Ree’s situation in the “Winter’s Bone,” physical environment is not as pleasing compared to Sylvia’s scenario. Rather, Ree and her two younger brothers live in an old house, surrounded by edges of sprawling Timberwood. Ree’s environment is characteristic of houses ruined by “exploded meth labs” (2:4), which seem to cause her frustrations. She copes by relying on tactics of escapism whereby she dreams of joining the army.
Therefore, while Sylvia seems to love her current environment where she embraces the countryside’s natural habitat, Ree is stuck in a poorly maintained environment, thus stifling her relationship with her physical surrounding. Once again, these two characters have entirely different ways of relating to their environments whereby Sylvia embraces hers while Ree loathes her surroundings.
Association with Men
When Sylvia first meets the hunter (ornithologist), she associates him with chaos, mainly because of the gun he was carrying. However, the next day, Sylvia starts to feel attracted to the hunter’s “boyish” looks, which prompts new emotions that make her want to explore new experiences. In essence, Sylvia is “thrilled by a dream of love” (1:26), which means she has a crush on the hunter. The hunter is the first city boy she has seen in a long time, which somehow reminds her of the city life, and thus she is willing to help him find the white heron. Nevertheless, despite her “crush” feelings towards the hunter, Sylvia held on to her dignity and decided to disappoint the hunter by refusing to disclose the heron’s place of hiding.
In contrast, Ree has no crush on anyone, and does not seem interested either; instead, she is focused on taking care of her younger brothers and their sick mother. Her detest over men is because fractious and complicated people surround her, most of them men. Even her best friend, Gail is experiencing marital mistreatments from her husband, Floyd. Their troubled marriage further drive Ree away from associating with men. Nonetheless, Ree has a strong character as a young woman, which wins her respect from men like her uncle Teardrop.
Similarities and Differences in Their Rites of Passage
It is without a doubt that Sylvia and Ree have entirely different lives, and thus their rites of passage are expectedly dissimilar. While Sylvia has a more straightforward, and much less dangerous journey, Ree’s rite of passage is plagued with dangers and realities of her harsh environment. Ree is forced to cope and adapt to her existing environment, even if it means enduring beatings from crack dealers like Thump Milton.
Jewett, Sarah Orne et al. Best Stories Of Sarah Orne Jewett. 2nd ed., L. Tapley, 1988, pp. 23-45. Accessible at https://bit.ly/2H4tmLG
Woodrell, Daniel, and Rudolph Franklin Rau. Winter’s Bone. 3rd ed., Barnes And Noble, pp. 4-78. Accessible at https://bit.ly/2CjinKv