James Hurst used several symbols in his short story "The Scarlet Ibis ." The most important symbol is that of the ibis which is meant to represent Doodle. The weather, which is often turbulent symbolizes the tumultuous relationship between the narrator and his brother. The mention of World War...
James Hurst used several symbols in his short story "The Scarlet Ibis." The most important symbol is that of the ibis which is meant to represent Doodle. The weather, which is often turbulent symbolizes the tumultuous relationship between the narrator and his brother. The mention of World War I also suggests the strife that the narrator and Doodle experience as the narrator tries to remake his crippled brother into a normal boy.
The setting of the story is coastal North Carolina which is inhabited by a wide range of vegetation. This part of North Carolina gets up to 60 inches of precipitation a year. Thus, it's not surprising that the farm and surrounding wetlands are populated by several species of plants. But, more than that, Hurst uses some of these plants as symbols.
For example, when the narrator takes his brother down to Old Woman Swamp they gather flowers to make wreaths. Doodle comments that the area is so "pretty, pretty, pretty." The scene shows how close the two brothers have become and the narrator has brought Doodle there to "share with him the only beauty I knew". The reader might infer that the beautiful flowers they encounter symbolize the brotherly love they have for each other:
I would gather wildflowers, wild violets, honeysuckle, yellow jasmine, snakeflowers, and waterlilies, and with wire grass we’d weave them into necklaces and crowns. We’d bedeck ourselves with our handiwork and loll about thus beautified, beyond the touch of the everyday world.
Unfortunately the narrator feels a strong sense of pride and he does not want to be embarrassed by Doodle. He sets out to transform his brother into a boy who can run and box and be the equal of other boys at school. Doodle resists this makeover and is physically unable to perform as his brother wishes. This rift in their relationship is symbolized by the weather and by the trees. Even the strongest trees, the elm and the oak, are blown over:
One morning in July a hurricane came out of the east, tipping over the oaks in the yard and splitting the limbs of the elm trees. That afternoon it roared back out of the west, blew the fallen oaks around, snapping their roots and tearing them out of the earth like a hawk at the entrails of a chicken.
Finally, two plants are used as symbolic in the deaths of the ibis and Doodle. When the ibis comes to the end of its journey it lands in the family's yard, perched in the bleeding tree. As its name suggests the tree is representative of the color red, the color of the ibis. Later, Doodle is found bleeding under the nightshade bush. It is indeed night for Doodle as his brother has pushed him too far and internal bleeding has caused his death.