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.

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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 ibis are out-of-place in the environment in which
they live. Each is exotic and fragile. Each is too weak to cope with the
normal world, and each of them represents the strength and dignity of the
handicapped. The scarlet wings of the ibis and the red of Doodle’s blood
symbolize the courage that it takes to be weak in a harsh world.