The Scarlet Ibis by James Hurst


Short Story Analysis


In "The Scarlet Ibis," by James Hurst, the narrator\'s brother "Doodle" is born physically handicapped and is expected to die yet lives. The narrator is forced to take Doodle everywhere in a go-cart. After much effort, he succeeds in making Doodle walk. Then, he is determined to teach Doodle more...


Foreshadowing, symbolism, and image are all elements which compose style. All are very important; foreshadowing adds suspense, and symbolism contributes to interpretation. Image contributes "visual aids" which, also, aid interpretation. In this classic short story, foreshadowing, symbolism, and image combine to create a literary masterpiece.


Foreshadowing is one of the elements of style which make "The Scarlet Ibis" great. For example, the author states, "The last graveyard flowers were blooming, and their smell drifted [through] our house, speaking softly the names of our dead." This passage clearly foreshadows the death of Doodle. Also, Hurst comments on Doodle\'s full name, "William Armstrong," that "such a name sounds good only on a tombstone," again foreshadowing Doodle\'s death. Later, Doodle\'s cries of "Don\'t leave me! Don\'t leave me!" are a parallel to the moment when the terrified little boy once again cries out, "Don\'t leave me!" when his older brother does actually leave him. Moreover, Aunt Nicey says that red dead birds are very bad luck, foreshadowing Doodle\'s death again. Finally, the death of the scarlet ibis, which is so rare and wonderful, like Doodle, is the most important foreshadowing of the small boy\'s death. Foreshadowing is definitely very important in this story, but two more elements also contribute to the distinction of its style.


Symbolism is another important element in the style of "The Scarlet Ibis." For example, in Doodle\'s "lies," the ten foot tail of the small peacock refers to the author\'s description of Doodle\'s full name, "William Armstrong," as "a big tail on a small kite" like the long fancy tail on the small bird. Also, the grindstone grinds away the years, revealing the brother\'s memories of doodle. Moreover, the mahogany coffin symbolizes Doodle\'s death when his brother forces him to touch it. Furthermore, beautiful Old Woman Swamp symbolizes paradise for the two boys; there they spend their happiest days. Finally, the rare scarlet ibis symbolizes Doodle. Both are rare and wonderful, and both die the same day. Also, Doodle\'s neck, red with blood, and legs, thin and stiffly jointed, liken him strongly to the ibis. Symbolism is unmistakably an important element in the style of this story, but one more factor helps to define the distinct style of this story.


Image is the most important element in "The Scarlet Ibis." To depict the summer of drought and misfortune James Hurst portrays the withered crops shriveling under the blistering gaze of the thirsty sun. The hurricane is likened to a bloodthirsty "hawk at the entrails of a chicken." This creates a picture of ruin and destruction in the mind of the reader. Also, Old woman Swamp and the happy times the boys spent there are described in vivid, glowing terms. The honeysuckle and water lilies are woven into wreaths and crowns which transform the boys into youthful kings of this glorious, luxurious paradise "beyond the reach of the everyday world." "The slanted rays of the sun burn orange in the pines," and thus the fantastic day of splendor comes to an almost divine conclusion. This eloquent passage produces in the reader\'s mind a brilliant image of peace, beauty, and happiness. Moreover, the opening scene is another example of an image used in this story. The yard is described with such terms as "rank," "rotting," "empty cradle," and "bleeding tree," creating in the reader\'s mind a picture of degradation, and the phrase "speaking softly the names of our dead" also adds a black note of solemn, eerie doom. Finally, at the conclusion of the tale, the rain drips incessantly from the gray clouds onto Doodle, his thin neck gleaming sharply red, and the fallen elder brother sheltering his "fallen scarlet ibis from the heresy of rain." This heartrending passage calls forth an image of desolate grief that the lone brother feels for his lifeless sibling. Image is truly the most important element in the style of this story.


Both Doodle and the