Mother's Milk

My first essay this semester was entitled Mother’s Milk, I had to find animal symbolism in the story “A White Heron”. The professors comments were: I LOVE (underlined twice) this interpretation. You might also see the cow as the opportunist that Sylvia is not.
To read the short story: go to

My essay follows:

Mother’s Milk

(Animal Symbolism in A White Heron)

Though not the white heron, the heroine or villain, the cow in the story; A White Heron, plays an important part nonetheless. Introduced in the first paragraph as a “plodding, dilatory provoking creature…” it represents in this story hope in an otherwise struggle for life.

Almost every night of the summer, Sylvia or her grandmother would have to search for the cow that had hidden itself far from home; the continued search for continued sustenance. The cow, like the end of any journey, keeps itself hidden by learning to silence the bell, making the search and the journey home that much longer. Never even so much as a Moo until your patience is spent, that’s the way with all life, the cow and its milk support these two. However, once you find it the cow strolls steadily along, as if the game were fun, but now its time for the comforts of home.

When first approached by the stranger and his whistle, she abandons the cow to its own fate; fear often makes us abandon our hope. One out of the ordinary whistle, not the friendly love song of the bird, but a determined whistle of a man (she says boy). Bring the cow and the man home together, meaning the man brings home the bacon (OK, no pigs in the story, but I had to).

Even after falling in love with the villain the cow remains a central character, the villain (as I choose to view him) and Sylvia bring the cow back together. Wonderfully symbolic is that she “smiled with pleasure” driving the cow home together, running into the spot where just the night before she had been frozen in terror. Terror is gone now replaced by the ease at which her livelihood is brought home with the aid of the man.

The cow, a symbol of hope and sustenance, searched for and brought home each night. The end of each days journey, and made that much sweeter with a man at your side. The man enters the picture, but the cow (hope) still hides each night in bushes far away, waiting only for us to seek it. Not the central character, but it helps us to make the $10 that much of a sweeter reward, knowing that each days struggle would perhaps lessen a bit. “Many a night Sylvia heard the echo of his whistle haunting the pasture path as she came home with the loitering cow.” Even after the man leaves, hope remains, but we have to journey for it and make it home.

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