"The Scarlet Ibis" is a 1960 short story written by American author James Hurst. It tells the story of two brothers—one who was born with a medical condition and one who was determined to help him overcome all challenges. As a story with a powerful meaning and message, it's rich with both imagery and symbolism.
Hurst actually opens the story with imagery and foreshadowing when he writes,
It was in the clove of seasons, summer was dead but autumn had not yet been born, that the ibis lit in the bleeding tree.
This sentence sets the tone of the narrative overall and alludes to the fact that the story is dark and that death and sadness are one of the main themes. In this context, it's notable to mention that Hurst also repeatedly uses the color red (scarlet) as a symbol of both life and death. In fact, the color has been connected to Doodle from the very start. When he is born,
He seemed all head, with a tiny body which was red and shriveled like an old man's.
Red is also apparent when he dies:
I peered through the downpour, but no one came. Finally I went back and found him huddled beneath a red nightshade bush beside the road. He was sitting on the ground, his face buried in his arms, which were resting on drawn-up knees. "Let's go, Doodle." He didn't answer so I gently lifted his head. He toppled backward onto the earth. He had been bleeding from the mouth, and his neck and the front of his shirt were stained a brilliant red.
The image of the scarlet ibis is also important, as it is a reflection of Doodle's appearance and personality.
On the topmost branch a bird the size of a chicken, with scarlet feathers and long legs, was perched precariously. Its wings hung down loosely, and as we watched, a feather dropped away and floated slowly down through the green leaves.
This paragraph is full of imagery, so that the readers can understand the connection between the ibis and Doodle; aside from the obvious parallels between the ibis and Doodle's appearance, as well as their uniqueness, the ibis is also a symbol of fragility, vulnerability, and death. In the end, Doodle's brother even directly compares Doodle to the scarlet ibis.
For a long time, it seemed forever, I lay there crying, sheltering my fallen scarlet ibis.
Near the end, when Doodle and his older brother attempt to outrun a thunderstorm and Doodle tragically loses his life due to his inability to keep up with his brother, Hurst uses imagery to essentially prepare the readers for Doodle's death.
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 black clouds and the sudden disappearance of the sun help the reader imagine the thunderstorm and to understand its symbolic meaning. The suspenseful moment foreshadows death and darkness.