Short Story AnalysisIn “The Scarlet Ibis,” by James Hurst, the narrator’s brother “Doodle”is born physically handicapped and is expected to die yet lives. Thenarrator is forced to take Doodle everywhere in a go-cart.
After mucheffort, he succeeds in making Doodle walk. Then, he is determined to teachDoodle more..
.Foreshadowing, symbolism, and image are all elements which composestyle. All are very important; foreshadowing adds suspense, and symbolismcontributes 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 ScarletIbis” great. For example, the author states, “The last graveyard flowerswere blooming, and their smell drifted through our house, speaking softlythe names of our dead.” This passage clearly foreshadows the death ofDoodle. Also, Hurst comments on Doodle’s full name, “William Armstrong,”that “such a name sounds good only on a tombstone,” again foreshadowingDoodle’s death. Later, Doodle’s cries of “Don’t leave me! Don’t leaveme!” are a parallel to the moment when the terrified little boy once againcries out, “Don’t leave me!” when his older brother does actually leavehim. Moreover, Aunt Nicey says that red dead birds are very bad luck,foreshadowing Doodle’s death again. Finally, the death of the scarletibis, which is so rare and wonderful, like Doodle, is the most importantforeshadowing of the small boy’s death.
Foreshadowing is definitely veryimportant in this story, but two more elements also contribute to thedistinction of its style. Symbolism is another important element in the style of “The ScarletIbis.” For example, in Doodle’s “lies,” the ten foot tail of the smallpeacock refers to the author’s description of Doodle’s full name, “WilliamArmstrong,” as “a big tail on a small kite” like the long fancy tail on thesmall bird. Also, the grindstone grinds away the years, revealing thebrother’s memories of doodle. Moreover, the mahogany coffin symbolizesDoodle’s death when his brother forces him to touch it.
Furthermore,beautiful Old Woman Swamp symbolizes paradise for the two boys; there theyspend their happiest days. Finally, the rare scarlet ibis symbolizesDoodle. Both are rare and wonderful, and both die the same day. Also,Doodle’s neck, red with blood, and legs, thin and stiffly jointed, likenhim strongly to the ibis. Symbolism is unmistakably an important elementin the style of this story, but one more factor helps to define thedistinct style of this story. Image is the most important element in “The Scarlet Ibis.” To depictthe summer of drought and misfortune James Hurst portrays the witheredcrops shriveling under the blistering gaze of the thirsty sun. Thehurricane is likened to a bloodthirsty “hawk at the entrails of achicken.
” This creates a picture of ruin and destruction in the mind ofthe reader. Also, Old woman Swamp and the happy times the boys spent thereare described in vivid, glowing terms. The honeysuckle and water liliesare woven into wreaths and crowns which transform the boys into youthfulkings of this glorious, luxurious paradise “beyond the reach of theeveryday world.” “The slanted rays of the sun burn orange in the pines,”and thus the fantastic day of splendor comes to an almost divineconclusion. This eloquent passage produces in the reader’s mind abrilliant image of peace, beauty, and happiness.
Moreover, the openingscene is another example of an image used in this story. The yard isdescribed 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 blacknote of solemn, eerie doom. Finally, at the conclusion of the tale, therain drips incessantly from the gray clouds onto Doodle, his thin neckgleaming sharply red, and the fallen elder brother sheltering his “fallenscarlet ibis from the heresy of rain.” This heartrending passage callsforth an image of desolate grief that the lone brother feels for hislifeless sibling. Image is truly the most important element in the styleof this story.
Both Doodle and the ibis are out-of-place in the environment in whichthey live. Each is exotic and fragile. Each is too weak to cope with thenormal world, and each of them represents the strength and dignity of thehandicapped. The scarlet wings of the ibis and the red of Doodle’s bloodsymbolize the courage that it takes to be weak in a harsh world.pic