What is the author's purpose in including the 3 paragraphs that begin with the line, "That summer, the summer of 1918, was blighted" in "The Scarlet Ibis"?  

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mwestwood's profile pic

mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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In James Hurst's "The Scarlet Ibis," the narrative takes a turn in the paragraph which begins, "That winter we didn't make much progress..." Then, the next paragraph commences with the historic summer of 1918 in which World War I was heading to its end in November of that year. The "summer was blighted" on the homefront as Doodle and the narrator's father has his crops wiped out; further, the lands of France were blighted in battle at such sites as Amiens, soissons, Chateau-Thierry, and Belleau Wood.

For Doodle and the brother, this "clove of seasons" will also prove to be blighted as Doodle strains to "reach our pot of gold" and be defeated. But, much like the poor soldiers of France fighting a horrible trench war, they "kept on with a tired doggedness." Then, when the symbolic scarlet ibis suddenly appears, Hurst's foreshadowing is complete and as autumn comes to Old Woman Swamp and to Amiens and the other French locations, the wars of two different worlds come to tragic ends.

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shake99's profile pic

shake99 | Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

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James Hurst's "The Scarlet Ibis" is probably one of the saddest stories you will ever read. Hurst tells the story of two brothers, one of whom (Doodle) is physically disabled. The older brother narrates the story, which revolves around the brothers' efforts to help Doodle overcome his physical challenges before starting school.

Hurst uses the early paragraphs to set the tone for the story. Although the plot proceeds hopefully for awhile, its tragic end calls for a complementary tone, and Hurst begins to establish that tone with his word choice (which we call "diction") in the first few paragraphs. Look at the words he chooses to use early in the story:

Dead (twice), bleeding (twice), stained, rotting, rank, empty, graveyard, die (twice), gravestone.

By using such terms, Hurst imbues the story with an atmosphere of doom. It's a kind of foreshadowing--although Hurst did not specifically tell us what would happen in the story later, the reader cannot help but feel that it isn't going to be a happy ending.

These early paragraphs also help demonstrate the first-person narrator's state of mind. His description of the world at that time mirrors his own feelings: he is suffering from an acute sense of guilt over his role in Doodle's fate. 

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