Explain what the ibis symbolizes in the story. 

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price7781 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the short story, “The Scarlet Ibis,” the ibis is a beautiful bird found far from his home when a violent storm carries it away from its normal environment.  Doodle and his family find the bird perched in a tree, and the bird is disheveled and weak.  The storm has brutally beat the bird, and the ibis falls from the tree dead.  Doodle buries the bird in the flower garden out of respect because he feels a connection to the bird when he first sees him in the tree.  As the ibis is falling from the tree, Doodle grabs his throat scared and anxious.  The ibis’s death is described as, “. . . the wings were uncoordinated, and amid much flapping and a spray of flying feathers, it tumbled down, bumping through the limbs of the bleeding tree and landing at our feet with a thud.”

The ibis is representative of Doodle and someone who doesn’t really fit or can survive in the environment in which he finds himself.  Because of his disabilities, Doodle is weak and unable to accomplish what Brother wants him to.  He is an anomaly (like the unusual ibis) and does not “belong” in the world although he desperately tries to succeed.  Like the ibis, he fights to survive, but because of his health, it is a fight he can’t win.  The ibis doesn’t have the strength to survive the storm, much like Doodle doesn’t have the strength to live up to Brother’s expectations. 

Doodle collapses after his Brother’s attempts to teach him to swim and climb a rope.  He dies with blood all over his clothes and chest.  This symbolizes the red breast of the ibis as well. 

Doodle and the ibis are both delicate, exotic, and unable to survive because nature (Doodle’s disability and the ibis’s fight against the storm) causes them to struggle to beat the forces against them.  

Read the study guide:
The Scarlet Ibis

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