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There are numerous examples of foreshadowing in James Hurst's short story, "The Scarlet Ibis." The appearance of the ibis settling in the bleeding tree is one of the most obvious. The fact that it is a scarlet-colored bird (scarlet being the color of blood) is another. In fact, the color red is repeated often in the story. Others include:
- The mention of the blooming "graveyard flowers... speaking softly the names of our dead."
- The continued mention and presence of Doodle's coffin.
- The narrator claims that Doodle's real name, William Armstrong, "sounds good only on a tombstone."
- References to the dead on the battlefields of World War I.
- Aunt Nicey's claim that "Dead birds is bad luck... specially red dead birds."
- Black clouds gathered before the storm.
Three examples of foreshadowing in James Hurst's short story, "The Scarlet Ibis," are the blighted summer of 1918, the scarlet ibis dead in the tree, and the thunderstorm at horsehead landing. The mood they create is reflective, solemn, and forlorn.
In the summer before Doodle dies, the narrator describes the blight that has occurred. Their father is a farmer, and this blight will affect their future and livelihood. It also foreshadows pain and sadness to come. When Doodle and Brother are working on teaching Doodle to walk, it is spring, a time of rebirth. The blighted summer is dead--crops withering and dying in the punishing sun. Consider the quote below:
"That summer, the summer of 1918, was blighted. In May and June there was no rain and the crops withered, curled up, then died under the thirsty sun. 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."
It was in the "clove of seasons," as the narrator describes it, that the scarlet ibis lands in the bleeding tree. It was a time of transition between summer and fall.
"At that moment the bird began to flutter, but 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. 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."
The dying bird foreshadows Doodle's death. There are many similarities between the bird and Doodle. The bird is uncoordinated and falls. It has a white veil come over its eyes, like the caul that Doodle was born in. And it is beautiful even in death. Readers will remember that the narrator began the story with the description of the clove of seasons and the scarlet ibis landing in the bleeding tree. The narrator says that he remembers Doodle, which prompts readers to infer that something has happened to Doodle.
Finally, the thunderstorm that descends prior to Doodle's death is an example of foreshadowing.
"After we had drifted a long way, I put the oars in place and made Doodle row back against the tide. Black clouds began to gather in the southwest, and he kept watching them, trying to pull the oars a little faster. When we reached Horsehead Landing, lightning was playing across half the sky and thunder roared out, hiding even the sound of the sea. The sun disappeared and darkness descended, almost like night. Flocks of marsh crows flew by, heading inland to their roosting trees; and two egrets, squawking, arose from the oyster-rock shallows and careened away."
The description of the ominous weather foreshadows an ominous event. The sun disappears and is replaced with blackness. The thunder is so loud it drowns out the sound of the sea. It is a picture of danger, and the reader is drawn into the action of the boys trying to escape the impending storm. Doodle is already worn out and exhausted so that fact has also foreshadowed a tragic outcome.
Hurst uses setting and diction to create the mood that is reflective, (the story is told as a flashback) solemn, and forlorn.
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