"The Scarlet Ibis," by James Hurst, was first published in the July 1960 issue of the Atlantic Monthly magazine. The story is also available in Elements of Literature: Third Course (published by Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1997). The story focuses on the troubled relationship between two young boys: the narrator and his mentally and physically disabled brother, Doodle. It explores the conflicts between love and pride and draws attention to the effects of familial and societal expectations on those who are handicapped. The narrative unfolds against the background of the carnage of World War I, with its associated themes of the dangers of attempting to make others over in one?s own image, the brotherhood of all mankind, and the waste of life resulting from a lack of love and compassion. In the course of the story, Doodle becomes symbolically identified with a rare and beautiful scarlet ibis which, finding itself in a hostile environment, dies. The ibis's story resonates not only with Doodle's own fate but with the fate of those from the United States and other countries who died in the war.
"The Scarlet Ibis" was the first and only work of Hurst's to achieve widespread recognition. It quickly achieved the status of a classic, being reprinted in many high-school and college literature text books. Its value to students of literature lies in its rich use of such devices as foreshadowing and symbolism, its sensitive use of setting to comment on the action, and its compassionate treatment of universal human values and limitations, as well as its compelling, character-driven plot. In an interview with this reviewer, Hurst said that he wrote the story as part of a process of coming to terms with the failure of his early singing career, but that the work has no direct autobiographical relevance and is a "work of imagination."