illustration of a scarlet ibis cradling a boy's body

The Scarlet Ibis

by James Hurst
Start Free Trial

The author James Hurst said that he considered the setting to be a character in "The Scarlet Ibis." Explain what Hurst means and how he uses language (figurative, connotative, sensory details, etc.) to communicate the setting.

The setting of “The Scarlet Ibis” takes on a personal quality because the narrator considers it to be a character in the story. He is able to communicate this through personification and connotation.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

It is evident that James Hurst considers the setting of “The Scarlet Ibis” to be a character in the story.

In the opening paragraph he puts a time stamp on the story by personifying the changing seasons saying, “Summer was dead, but autumn had not yet been born...

See
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

It is evident that James Hurst considers the setting of “The Scarlet Ibis” to be a character in the story.

In the opening paragraph he puts a time stamp on the story by personifying the changing seasons saying, “Summer was dead, but autumn had not yet been born when the ibis came to the bleeding tree.” In this paragraph he continues in this vain when he speaks of the five o’clock flowers as still “keeping time” while the smell of the flowers on the graves across the cotton fields filled the house with their smell. By immediately giving the time and place human qualities, Hurst creates the connotation that the setting is a character in the story.

Each setting in the story acts as a character when the other characters interact with it. Let me provide some examples.

The narrator, who was six years old when Doodle was born, wanted a brother to share his adventures with. One of the places he wanted to take him was “Old Woman Swamp.” The swamp is described as one of the most beautiful places around the house that is surrounded by dry cotton fields. The first time Brother takes Doodle to the swamp, the little boy cries when he is overcome by her beauty. As the boys spend hours in the swamp, it becomes an integral part of the their lives. They work on Doodles’ physical skills and dream of their futures living on the edge of the swamp. Old Woman Swamp is where Doodle learns to walk, she gives him life.

Hurst brings the Scarlet Ibis to the bleeding tree which is another important setting because it portends bad luck. Aunt Nicey reminds the family that red birds are bad luck. Hurst uses the death of the Scarlet Ibis in the bleeding tree as symbol for Doodles' impending death.

The boys are in the stream at Horsehead Landing when this storm arrives and Brother leaves the petrified Doodle behind. Doodle bleeds to death under one of the red nightshade bushes along the road. Again, the name and color of the bush bring it into the story as a character.

Each one of these settings takes on personal qualities either through personification or through the connotations the author applies to their names or descriptions.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team