What colors are used as symbols in James Hurst's "The Scarlet Ibis," and what do the colors symbolize?
Beyond the color red, one other color frequently found in James Hurst's short story "The Scarlet Ibis" is white. In particular, when William Armstrong, nicknamed Doodle, is still an infant, not expected to live much longer, all he does is "lie on the rubber sheet in the center of the bed in the front bedroom where the white marquisette curtains billowed out in the afternoon sea breeze." Marquisette is a type of fabric that's very sheer; curtains made of marquisette float and flutter easily because of the lightweight sheerness of the fabric.
In Western culture, the color white is known to symbolize innocence and purity as well as birth and youthfulness; therefore, the image of Doodle lying near the white, fluttering curtains helps capture his innocence and can be likened to the image of a fluttering angel. The image of purity stands in stark contrast to Doodle's older brother, who is deeply affected by an instinctive desire to be cruel.
A second dominant color in the story is green. One day Doodle's older brother pulls Doodle in his go-cart to see Old Woman Swamp. Doodle is so impressed by the beauty of the swamp that he cries, beauty described as a "green dimness where palmetto fronds whispered by the stream" and bedecked with "soft rubber grass beside a tall pine." Most cultures agree that the color green has both positive and negative symbolic meanings. On a positive note, green symbolizes nature, rejuvenation, health, and good luck. However, on a negative note, green can symbolize envy and jealousy, and such negative feelings can lead to unfortunate consequences, making green also symbolic of misfortune ("Color Symbolism and Culture," Incredible Art Department).
This scene at the swamp marks one of the best moments of Doodle's young life since it is the moment he is happiest; therefore, the color green found in the images of palm trees, thick grass, and a pine tree symbolizes Doodle's rejuvenated life. It is also at the swamp that Doodle gains slightly stronger health because his brother successfully teaches him to walk, showing us that the green foreshadows positive events coming up in Doodle's life and symbolizing strengthened health. Yet, Doodle's brother tries to teach him "to run, to swim, to climb trees, and to fight," not for Doodle's benefit but because his brother can't stand the thought of having a crippled brother. Doodle had not been worried before about kids at school seeing him as different; it is his brother who puts the idea in his mind, and as soon as he does so, the brother awakens envy within Doodle. Therefore, the color green at the swamp also foreshadows Doodle's upcoming misfortunes that are a result of the combination of his brother's inability to accept his being handicapped and Doodle's envy of so-called normal people. In foreshadowing misfortunes, the color green also symbolizes envy.
The main color used in this story is obviously red. It's used when describing the bird after it came tumbling through their (red) bleeding tree. It says that it lay "like a broken vase of red flowers" on the ground before them.
The other scene where the color is used dominantly is when the narrator goes back for Doodle in the ending scene. He runs back to find that Doodle, and he sees that "his neck and the front of his shirt were stained a brilliant red."
Both Doodle and the ibis are beautiful creatures. Red can symbolize love and represent the "heart" that the character has. Doodle worked so hard to please his brother and the ibis tried so hard to survive. However, neither could survive the struggle.
The most important symbolism is the guilt that the narrator felt for beign responsible. He realized that his pride led to Doodle's death. So the red symbolized his guilt as well.