The Scarlet Ibis Questions and Answers
by James Hurst

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Give an example of a metaphor from the short story, "The Scarlet Ibis." 

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Metaphors compare unlike things without using the words "like" or "as," such as saying summer was dead or that the narrator had a knot of cruelty in him.

A metaphor is a comparison between two unlike things.  Metaphors are a type of figurative language that are used to add description to writing.  They might be used to describe the setting or characterize.  An example of a metaphor follows:

It was in the clove of seasons, summer was dead but autumn had not yet been born, that the ibis lit in the bleeding tree.

This is a metaphor because, of course, summer is not alive, and therefore cannot die.  It is also personification, because it describes summer and autumn as if they were human. This sets the tone while also giving important symbolic information for the story and telling you details of the setting.  The ibis, which is mentioned in this first sentence, is a symbol of fragility to which the narrator compares his brother. 

Metaphor contrasts with simile, which is another type of comparison that uses “like” or “as” in the comparison.  Consider the description of Doodle trying to learn to crawl.

Trembling, he'd push himself up, turning first red, then a soft purple, and finally collapse back onto the bed like an old worn-out doll.

Notice that this is different from a metaphor because it does not say that Doodle is a worn-out doll, it says that he is like a worn-out doll.  Similes are still useful figurative language in that they also add detail and help the reader create pictures in his or her mind.

Although the story is full of simile, there are also other metaphors.

There is within me (and with sadness I have watched it in others) a knot of cruelty borne by the stream of love, much as our blood sometimes bears the seed of our destruction, and at times I was mean to Doodle.

This metaphor is used to compare the narrator’s feelings with a knot.  It is a powerful metaphor which can be used to characterize him, because it demonstrates his guilt over how he treated his brother and also his reflective nature.  Of course, it also shows that he does not have the tendency to be cruel to his brother. He admits it.  The narrator admits that he wanted his brother to be like other kids, grew frustrated with him, and pushed him too hard.

This story is full of imagery and figurative language.  These descriptions create a tone, add detail, and characterize the narrator and Doodle or describing the setting.  Authors use these elements to make their stories richer and help the reader see what they are seeing.


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