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James Hurst's 1960 short story, "The Scarlet Ibis," is rich with imagery. Imagery is a literary device in which the author uses figurative language and word choice to create word pictures that appeal to the five senses.
1. In the first paragraph, there are many examples of imagery. The narrator describes the "clove of seasons, summer was dead and autumn had not yet been born." This opening line contains imagery. A clove is a dried flower bud which has a strong aroma. Clove is also the past tense of cleave, which means a split in something. This one sentence contains word pictures that appeal to the sense of sight and smell. The narrator goes on to describe the flowers in the garden: "The flower garden was strained with rotting brown magnolia petals and ironweeds grew rank amid the purple phlox." This sentence contains imagery that appeals to both sight and smell. The words "rotting" and "rank" appeal to the sense of smell. The phrases "purple phlox" and "magnolia petals" appeal to the sense of sight, as they name the color and type of flowers.
2. In the fourth paragraph, the words "rustling like palmetto fronds" appeals to the sense of sound or hearing.
3. In the fifth paragraph, examples of imagery are found in the following sentence: "Trembling, he'd push himself up, turning first red, then a soft purple, and finally collapse back onto the bed like an old worn-out doll." The narrator's description of Doodle's color appeals to the sense of sight. The image of the worn-out doll is sight imagery, as well.
4. Paragraph nine contains several examples of imagery, as well. Consider the following sentences:
I pulled the go-cart through the saw-tooth fern, down into the green dimness where the palmetto fronds whispered by the stream. I lifted him out and set him down in the soft rubber grass beside a tall pine.
Even if one has never seen a saw-tooth fern, the description given appeals to a reader's sense of sight. Most can imagine what a fern with saw tooth-type foliage would look like. The palmetto fronds in this sentence "whisper," which appeals to the sense of sound.
5. The eleventh full paragraph contains more examples of sight imagery. In this paragraph, the narrator introduces Doodle to his coffin, made because he was not expected to live.
One day I took him up to the barn loft and showed him his casket, telling him how we all had believed he would die. It was covered with a film of Paris green sprinkled to kill the rats, and screech owls had built a nest inside it. Doodle studied the mahogany box for a long time, then said, “It’s not mine."
Paris green is a green powder used for killing rodents. The sight imagery of it being "sprinkled" over the coffin, along with the screech owls making a nest in it, and the description of the box being made of mahogany, all create word pictures in the reader's mind by appealing to the sense of sight.
6. On the third page of the story, the author uses a simile to express the imagery of how Doodle looks when his brother tries to stand him up to walk. The image of a half-empty flour sack gives readers an image of Doodle's weakness and inability to walk.
I took him by the arms and stood him up. He collapsed onto the grass like a half-empty flour sack. It was as if he had no bones in his little legs. "Don't hurt me, Brother," he warned. "Shut up. I'm not going to hurt you. I'm going to teach you to walk."
7. An example of sound/ hearing imagery is found on page three. "When he fell, I grabbed him in my arms and hugged him, our laughter pealing through the swamp like a ringing bell." The author uses a simile to compare the sound of their laughter to a bell.
8. One example of imagery comes as a part of one of Doodle's stories, which the narrator refers to as "lies."
Peter wore a golden robe that glittered so brightly that when he walked through the sunflowers they turned away from the sun to face him. When Peter was ready to go to sleep, the peacock spread his magnificent tail, enfolding the boy gently like a closing go-to-sleep flower, burying him in the glorious iridescent, rustling vortex.
This quote contains sight imagery due to the words "golden," "glittered," "iridescent," and "vortex." It also contains sound imagery in "rustling," and touch imagery in the description of the tail "enfolding the boy gently like a closing go-to-sleep flower."
9. The summer before Doodle's death is described as "blighted." The sight imagery is crops that withered and died under the thirsty sun.
10. In the description of the storm in which Doodle dies, there are several examples of sight and sound imagery. Black clouds gather, lightning plays, flocks of birds fly inland, and the sun disappears. These images all appeal to the sense of sight. The sound/ hearing imagery is thunder roaring, egrets squawking, and the sound of the sea being drowned out.
There are many more examples of imagery in this story. James Hurst draws the reader into this period of time and the events with rich word pictures created through figurative language and words that appeal to the five senses.
Set against the clouds of a world war, "The Scarlet Ibis" is a symbolic story in which a beautiful ibis finds itself in an environment that is fateful. In fact, the narrative resonates with fate, not only of Doodle, whom the ibis symbolizes, and his brother, but also of many who become sacrificial victims of wars. With this looming fate in Hurst's narrative, the imagery, or language that appeals to the senses, complements the motifs and themes.
Here are examples of imagery
Certainly, the opening paragraph contains several examples of imagery, the representation through language of sensory experience.
- There is visual imagery with "the bleeding tree," "purple phlox," and "a silvery dust."
- There is olfactory imagery in the descriptions of the "graveyard flowers' smell drift[ing] across the cotton field, "rotting brown magnolia petals," and "ironweeeds grew rank."
- There is auditory imagery with "oriole sings in the elm."
In the second paragraph, there is more imagery
- There is visual imagery with "green-draped parlor"
- The name "Doodle" conjures the visual image of the doodle-bug that walks backwards
Further, there are other examples,
- There is auditory imagery with a "deafening peal of thunder" and a "mournful sound"
- There is visual imagery: "green-draped parlor"
- There is organic imagery [fatigue] as "Doodle collapsed into the mud"
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