The Scarlet Ibis Questions and Answers
by James Hurst

The Scarlet Ibis book cover
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In "The Scarlet Ibis," what is the symbolism behind all of the different plants and animals mentioned? Elm, oriole, purple phlox, palmetto thicket, screech owl, etc.

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In the garden, among the rotting magnolia petals and the "rank" ironweed is a patch of purple phlox. Phlox is a genus of flowers that can grow in diverse environments. Phlox means "flame" which is fitting because it can spread. Given this information, phlox is a foil (opposite) to Doodle and the Ibis because it can thrive in a variety of environments whereas Doodle and the Ibis can not. 

The empty oriole nest in the elm tree seems eerily similar to Doodle's empty coffin. Recall that when Doodle was born everyone thought he was not going to live. So, they had a carpenter build him a tiny coffin. Perhaps the empty nest symbolizes or foreshadows Doodle's death. Maybe the baby oriole fell. In any case, the empty nest and the empty coffin both suggest the absence of a baby. 

The screech owl makes a nest inside the coffin. Brother cruelly takes Doodle to show him the coffin...

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