What colors are used as symbols in James Hurst's "The Scarlet Ibis," and what do the colors symbolize?  

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Doodle is identified with both red and green in the story.

The most pronounced symbolism is in the color red. Doodle is like the scarlet ibis who dies. Both are beautiful but doomed creatures of nature. Doodle, at birth, had a "tiny body that was red." When the ibis dies...

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Doodle is identified with both red and green in the story.

The most pronounced symbolism is in the color red. Doodle is like the scarlet ibis who dies. Both are beautiful but doomed creatures of nature. Doodle, at birth, had a "tiny body that was red." When the ibis dies it is described as being "like a broken vase of red flowers." When Doodle dies, the narrator finds him "huddled beneath a red nightshade bush."

In both cases, red symbolizes both beauty and pain: the beautiful ibis is like a "broken vase" of red flowers, and the red nightshade bush the lovable and pure Doodle is found under is a poisonous plant, a traditional symbol of death.

Red is also the color of blood, and the dead Doodle will be found bleeding from the mouth, while the ibis will fall out of a tree that is described three times as "bleeding."

Red, therefore, symbolizes the beauty of Doodle and the ibis as well as the harsh, startling violence of the death of both the boy and the bird.

Green also symbolizes nature, but it represents the gentler, renewing qualities of the natural world rather than its stunning and deadly extremes. Doodle finds renewal amid the grass and leafy greenness of the outdoors. Away from the restrictions of civilization, which tell him he can't walk, Doodle is able to find his legs and show he has abilities beyond what others have decided are his limitations. Tragically, if his older brother's harsh ideas about civilization, symbolized by the distant school, had not intruded into the green, natural world and pushed him too hard, Doodle might have found a way to survive.

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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.

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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.

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