What is the irony in "The Scarlet Ibis"?

There are many ironies in "The Scarlet Ibis." Doodle's name, William Armstrong, is ironic, as it is a strong name for a frail person. Dramatic irony is present in that the audience is aware that Doodle will die but the narrator is not. There is also irony in that Brother's efforts to strengthen Doodle result in his death.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

There are a few types of irony, but the general meaning is when something different from what is expected happens. For example, in Hurst's "The Scarlet Ibis ," it is ironic to call a small child who is not projected to live for very long "William Armstrong." Brother...

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

There are a few types of irony, but the general meaning is when something different from what is expected happens. For example, in Hurst's "The Scarlet Ibis," it is ironic to call a small child who is not projected to live for very long "William Armstrong." Brother compares his little brother's name to "tying a big tail on a small kite," which would also be ironic. 

Another example of irony from the story is that a coffin is built for Doodle soon after he is born. Although children do sometimes die as babies, a mother doesn't usually plan on burying a child right after giving birth. Usually, the mother expects to love and rear that child to adulthood. However, another ironic situation occurs when everyone does expect the baby to die, but then he doesn't; consequently, the coffin is stored high in the rafters of the barn until or in case the boy dies.

One major irony, though, if one were to pinpoint one big one, would be what happens after Brother teaches Doodle to walk. No adult or doctor thought Doodle would ever walk, but he does. During the summer before Doodle enters elementary school, though, Brother expects to teach his little brother to run and play like other kids at school so he won't be embarrassed.

"School was only a few weeks away, and Doodle was far behind schedule. He could barely clear the ground when climbing up a rope of vines, and his swimming was certainly not passable. We decided to double our efforts, to make that last drive and reach our pot of gold."

At this point, Brother fully expects Doodle to learn how to run since he also knows how to walk. Brother also thinks that he is helping his little brother. But in the process of all their hard work and physical training, Brother winds up pushing Doodle too hard, and Doodle dies while trying to please his big brother.

Thus, throughout the story, Doodle exceeds everyone's expectations by doing such things as living longer than anticipated and learning to walk; however, in the end, Brother expects Doodle to become stronger and like other little boys, but he doesn't. Not only that, but it is because of Brother that Doodle dies. This is ironic because there is a time when Brother wants Doodle to die, but when he gets to the point that he wants his little brother to live, it is then that Doodle dies. Doodle probably would have lived longer had he not been pushed too hard physically.

Therefore, there are many smaller moments of irony throughout the story such as Doodle accomplishing the unexpected over and over again. But when Brother expects too much more, the result is tragic--and that's ironic, too.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

There are several key examples of irony in James Hurst's "The Scarlet Ibis." Doodle's real name, William Armstrong, is a glaring one: A long name that suggests physical strength, it does not fit the weak and sickly younger brother. The weary scarlet ibis that tumbles from the bleeding tree and dies in the yard is another. Doodle, who had recently shocked his parents by standing up and walking across the room without assistance, quickly identifies with the colorful creature that now lies before him. A lone bird, it was out of place in this world, and he buries the beautiful, red, dead creature. Doodle's triumphs of the previous months seemed unimportant to him now. Just hours later, he, too, would die alone, limp and blood stained. It was now the older brother's turn to shelter his fallen scarlet ibis.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The short story "The Scarlet Ibis" is full of ironies, both large and small. For instance, Doodle's true name, William Armstrong, is ironic, as it denotes strength when Doodle is actually physically weak.

There is also dramatic irony in this story. James Hurst foreshadows throughout the narrative that Doodle is doomed to die young. The death of the ibis, the coffin, and other morbid imagery and language pervades this story from the very first sentence. However, Brother seems confident that he can teach Doodle to survive. As readers, we know that this effort will end in tragic futility.

In fact, there is an irony to Brother's very efforts to teach Doodle to be stronger. He teaches him to stand and then to walk and do other physical activities typical of a child. This is not born out of a purely altruistic desire to help his little brother. Rather, the narrator is simply ashamed and annoyed with having to drag an invalid sibling everywhere. He wants a brother who can keep up with him and not hold him back.

It is this desire that causes Brother to push Doodle too hard. When Brother runs ahead of Doodle in the storm, he thinks this is a way of toughening him up. Instead, it causes Doodle to overexert himself, and he dies. To this, there is another layer of irony. There was a time when Brother wanted Doodle to die. However, the story ends with Brother distraught over Doodle's death.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on