How does the author use symbolism and foreshadowing with the use of the scarlet ibis?

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mercut1469 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The scarlet ibis is a symbol for Doodle and the bird's death under the bleeding tree foreshadows the death of the young boy. Today, we might use the term "special" for Doodle because he suffers from a physical disability. Indeed, the author, James Hurst, wants us to consider Doodle a rare and unique individual. When he is born his Aunt comments that Doodle had almost a divine birth:

She said he would live because he was born in a caul, and cauls were made from Jesus' nightgown.

Like Doodle, the ibis is rare and fragile. It has been blown off its course by a hurricane and lands in the family's garden high up in the bleeding tree (a symbol for blood and death). It is a tropical bird and rarely gets as far away from home as North Carolina. Hurst describes the death of the bird, foreshadowing the later death of Doodle:

Its long, graceful neck jerked twice into an S, then straightened out, and the bird was still. A white veil came over the eyes and the long white beak unhinged. Its legs were crossed and its clawlike feet were delicately curved at rest. Even death did not mar its grace, for it lay on the earth like a broken vase of red flowers, and we stood around it, awed by its exotic beauty.

Doodle takes a keen interest in the bird, feeling an affinity to the fragile creature. He buries the bird and even sings a hymn for the dead bird.

After his brother pushes him too hard, Doodle dies from internal bleeding and is found under a nightshade bush (like the bleeding tree, a symbol of death). The description of Doodle in death mirrors the description of the ibis, and even the brother makes the comparison. Hurst writes:

"Doodle! Doodle!" I cried, shaking him, but there was no answer but the ropy rain. He lay very awkwardly, with his head thrown far back, making his vermilion neck appear unusually long and slim. His little legs, bent sharply at the knees, had never before seemed so fragile, so thin.

I began to weep, and the tear-blurred vision in red before me looked very familiar. "Doodle!" I screamed above the pounding storm and threw my body to the earth above his. For a long time, it seemed forever, I lay there crying, sheltering my fallen scarlet ibis from the heresy of rain.

The description of Doodle's long, slender neck and thin legs are reminiscent of the death of the ibis. And, like the ibis, Doodle's life ended tragically in the middle of tumultuous weather.

Read the study guide:
The Scarlet Ibis

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