What is the importance of the time of year and the specific year in "The Scarlet Ibis"? 

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The mention of the time of year ("the death of summer") and World War I (dubbed "the war to end all wars") as a chain of events in this literary work is used as an artistic expression that establishes relationships to emotion in the story. 

It is apparent that James Hurst employs much symbolism in his short story, "The Scarlet Ibis." For, in this narrative, Hurst makes mention of the death of summer--the"clove of seasons"--the blight upon the cotton crop, World War I, and the storm that hurls both the scarlet ibis and the awkward and weak boy to their deaths. It would seem, then, that the war, the blight, and the storms are the objective correlatives for what occurs within the hearts of the father, and, especially the brother. 

Thus, throughout the story, there is much foreshadowing of death that pervades the mood of the narrative with ominous reminders that things are not going to end well. Always there is a private war within the heart of the brother, as well as a war between Doodle and him, who admits cruelty on numerous occasions: "I began to make plans to kill him by smothering him with a pillow," and 

There is within me...a knot of cruelty borne by the stream of love, much as our blood sometimes bears the seed of our destruction...

When he is told to not excite Doodle and treat him carefully, he "ignored [the admonitions] once we got out of the house"; when he teaches Doodle to walk, it is for himself that he does this--"that pride, whose slave I was." Doodle constantly wants his brother to take care of him--"Don't leave me"--but warring emotions and the blight of pride and cruelty strike the heart of the brother, causing him to allow the storm to finally take his "scarlet ibis," that delicate, weak-hearted, awkward creature, from him and his family. Clearly, then, the setting of the death of summer, the world war, the blight, and the storm are concrete representations of the turbulent and cruel emotions of the brother.

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