illustration of a scarlet ibis cradling a boy's body

The Scarlet Ibis

by James Hurst

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What does the storm symbolize in "The Scarlet Ibis" and how does it relate to the theme of the story?

Quick answer:

Hurst uses the weather to foreshadow Doodle’s death. The stormy weather reflects the turmoil in Brother. The author sets up an almost biblical imagery in the use of the wall of rain and nightshade bush that ultimately symbolize Doodle’s death.

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The storm in "The Scarlet Ibis" symbolizes Doodle's weakness and death.

A symbol is something that stands for more than what it is in the story.

“The Scarlet Ibis” is about two brothers.  The older one, the narrator, attempts to make his disabled brother Doodle into something he is not.  When a storm comes, it blows the scarlet ibis into their lives, and Doodle is obsessed with it.  He wants to bury it, and even after his mother forbids him he finds a way.

The bird is unique, like Doodle, but weak, like Doodle.  It is special but cannot survive.  It has lost its way.

"It lives in the tropics--South America to Florida. A storm must have brought it here." Sadly, we all looked back at the bird. A scarlet ibis! How many miles it had traveled to die like this, in our yard, beneath the bleeding tree.

The narrator, Doodle’s older brother, wants Doodle to be like everyone else.  He does not realize that Doodle’s health is failing.  In fact, no one seems to.  The narrator continues to be ashamed of Doodle, such as when he falls.

I ran as fast as I could, leaving him far behind with a wall of rain dividing us. ... Soon I could hear his voice no more.

In the end, Doodle dies like the bird.  He doesn’t belong there either.  He is the boy who should not have lived, but did.  He should not have walked, but he did.  The narrator tried to make him what he was not, and his little body could not take it.

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What does the stormy weather at the end of "The Scarlet Ibis" by James Hurst symbolize?

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.

James Hurst foreshadows the death of Doodle in the first sentence of his story “The Scarlet Ibis.” The ibis dies as well as does Doodle during the time of the year [the clove of seasons] which splits summer from autumn.  It was the time that school started.

Hurst frames his story around the changes in the weather.  Doodle is sickly during the winter; however, when the spring comes he seems to find the will to attack the hard lessons Brother takes him through.   The hurricane season which kills the cotton crop of Brother’s father prefaces the storm which ultimately brings the ibis to the yard.

With skill, the author weaves the elements of the weather into the plot and actions of the characters. Leading to the storm, The boys’ mother, who believes in signs,  does not think there will be a storm because she has not heard the “rain frogs.” On the other hand, the father thinks that the sky, the humidity, and the clouds all indicate that a storm is coming. Ignoring all of this, Brother takes Doodle to the swamp to teach him how to row a canoe. 

Brother’s pride prevents him from observing his little brother’s health.  It was a miracle that Doodle had lived as long as he had. Brother wanted Doodle to be as normal as possible…not for Doodle but for himself. He was proud of Doodle’s accomplishments but also ashamed to have a handicapped brother. 

When Brother realizes that Doodle has failed to learn the things that would make him more normal, his spirit becomes bitter; and once again, he feels the mean streak running through his heart.  Doodle looks to his brother for some sign of compassion, yet none comes. 

Suddenly, the storm erupts like a “Roman candle” advising the reader that this is no ordinary rain.  It is a full-fledged thunderstorm which brings with it the danger of being hit by lightning. The symbolism employed in the use of the storm highlights the turmoil within Brother and the last bit of life left in poor Doodle. When Brother leaves Doodle crying for him and trying to keep up with him, the rain is so hard that Brother cannot see actually see Doodle. In fact, metaphorically the rain becomes a wall separating the two brothers from sight and hearing.

Finally, Brother succumbs to guilt and turns to see where Doodle is in the stormy landscape.  He returns to look for him, and  Brother finds Doodle under a nightshade bush.  [Again symbolism at work since the nightshade is often mentioned in reference to death because its berries are poisonous.] Doodle and the Ibis have become one.  Both were covered in their own vermilion blood. 

I began to weep, and the tear-blurred vision in red before me looked

very familiar. "Doodle!" I screamed above the pounding storm and threw my

body to the earth above his... I lay there

crying, sheltering my fallen scarlet ibis from the heresy of rain.

With his change  of heart, Brother tries to cover the body of the innocent Doodle.  In his final condemnation of nature’s stormy onslaught on the two brothers, Hurst uses the phrase “the heresy of rain.”  Nature does not change for man.  It is what it is…snow, sleet, tornado, or whatever.  To the author, Brother had to shelter Doodle from the almost sacrilegious attack of the rainstorm. 

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What do the thunderstorms in "The Scarlet Ibis" symbolize?

In the short story, “The Scarlet Ibis", we see two ominous thunderstorms that symbolize or foreshadow death. The first thunderstorm is when the scarlet ibis is blown far from its habitat by the powerful wind to Brother and Doodle’s farm. Doodle finds the ibis in the bleeding tree, and the ibis is weak and sick from fighting the violent nature of the storm. The ibis is so exhausted that it falls from the tree dead, and Doodle buries the ibis. In addition, Doodle and Brother are caught in a thunderstorm while playing one day at Old Woman’s Swamp. Doodle tries to climb a rope and swim to shore. As he crawls onto shore, he is exhausted from the physical trials he has been through trying to please Brother.  Brother runs ahead leaving Doodle behind, and when Brother realizes that Doodle isn’t following him, he returns to find Doodle dead and bleeding underneath a nightshade bush. 

The thunderstorms represent the upcoming doom and death of the ibis and Doodle. 

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