What is the diction of the short story "Scarlet Ibis"?

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hgarey71 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

James Hurst's short story, "The Scarlet Ibis," is often categorized as southern gothic literature. Gothic literature is so named because of its dark content and themes. Southern gothic is similar but more subtle in its approach—it does not employ the supernatural elements that often accompany gothic literature. Southern gothic literature deals with horrific things, like the death of Doodle, but often frames it along with nature, social order, and the struggles of the characters. Southern gothic literature became a recognized genre in the early part of the 20th century. 

Diction, in literature, refers to word choice. There are many adjectives used to describe the diction of a work of literature: formal, informal, colloquial, concrete, abstract, denotative, and more. Diction is not the same as tone, which is the author's attitude toward his/her subject, but diction does contribute to the overall tone of a work. 

I would call the diction in "The Scarlet Ibis" a combination of semi-formal, informal, and colloquial. Consider the first paragraph: 

"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. The flower garden was strained with rotting brown magnolia petals and ironweeds grew rank amid the purple phlox. The five o'clocks by the chimney still marked time, but the oriole nest in the elm was untenanted and rocked back and forth like an empty cradle. The last graveyard flowers were blooming, and their smell drifted across the cotton field and through every room of our house, speaking softy the names of our dead."

The grammatical structure and word choice are semi-formal. Words like "the clove of seasons" and "ironweeds grew rank amid the phlox" give us a sense of formality. However, the use of the word "bleeding tree" tends toward the vernacular. The bleeding tree is not a species of tree, but a tree that is leaking sap. The sap may or may not be red, but it gives a human quality to a tree to say that it is bleeding. 

In the third paragraph, the diction shifts with the words "Doodle was just about the craziest brother a boy ever had." The diction sounds like a young boy telling the story. The effect that is created with the diction, or word choice, between paragraphs one and three is that the reader is drawn into the memories of the narrator. At first, he seems like a grown adult, but, by the third paragraph, he has gone back in time to his boyhood. 

There are colloquialisms given throughout the story. One of them is the slang for Doodle's mental condition—they whisper that he might not be "all there." Brother gets very excited the first time Doodle smiles at him, proclaiming "He's all there! He's all there!" Another colloquialism is when Aunt Nicey calls Doodle a "caul baby." That is the term used to describe a baby who is born inside the placental sac. Another colloquialism is the description of the "go-to-sleep flower," which refers to a flower that closes at night. 

The informal tone used when the boys are playing and when Brother is training Doodle juxtaposed against the periods of semi-formal narration give the reader the sense of going back in time with the narrator as he remembers his childhood and the experience of his brother's death.

lizbv eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Diction means "word choice", so your question is rather unclear. Do you mean the significance? the style? examples of?

If you mean significance, then it is a matter of the influence the author's diction, or word choice, has on the mood of the story.  The diction is very much based on the portrayal of death imagery which creates a somber, dark, dreary mood that sets the stage for the death that takes place in the story.  His use of red images also lends to the foreshadowing in the text (specifically the connections established between the descriptions of the ibis itself).

If you mean style, then again you need to look at the strong and unpleasant word choices he makes in his descriptions, especially at the beginning when he repeatedly uses words that allude to death and cemeteries in his description of the setting.