illustration of a scarlet ibis cradling a boy's body

The Scarlet Ibis

by James Hurst
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What are the reactions to the death of the ibis by the various characters in "The Scarlet Ibis"?

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When the scarlet ibis lands in "the bleeding tree," only Doodle is extremely concerned; the others are rather matter-of-fact or unconcerned in their remarks. Even when the ibis dies, they do not let this incident upset their routine.

As the family sits at the dinner table on a hot day,...

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When the scarlet ibis lands in "the bleeding tree," only Doodle is extremely concerned; the others are rather matter-of-fact or unconcerned in their remarks. Even when the ibis dies, they do not let this incident upset their routine.

As the family sits at the dinner table on a hot day, they have all the windows and even the doors open in case a breeze might blow through the house and cool them. Because it is so quiet outside, Daddy remarks that he would not be surprised if a storm comes in the afternoon. Suddenly, they all hear a bizarre noise in the yard; it is an odd croaking sound. "What's that?" whispers Doodle.

The narrator jumps up so quickly that he topples his chair; his mother instructs him to set it aright and then ask to be excused from the table. But, in the time that he obeys his mother, Doodle has excused himself and is in the yard, "looking up into the bleeding tree." Doodle calls to everyone, "It's a great big red bird!"

There, at the top of the tree is a large red bird that is the size of a chicken. Perched in a rather precarious position, the bird has scarlet feathers and long legs; its wings hang limply from his body. As the family watches in curiosity, a feather wafts down and floats away through the green foliage. Casually, the mother observes, "It's not even frightened of us." But, the boys' father notices, "It looks tired." Standing perfectly still, Doodle clasps his hands at his throat as he stands motionless for some time. Finally, he asks," What is it?" and the father replies, "I don't know, maybe it's--" but, just then, the bird flutters its injured wings in an uncoordinated motion; more feathers sprinkle down. Finally, the poor bird crashes through the limbs of the tree and it falls with a thud upon the ground.

Its long, graceful neck jerked twice into an S, then straightened out, and the bird was still. A white veil came over the eyes, and the long white beak unhinged. Its legs were crossed and its claw-like feet were delicately curved at rest. Even death did not mar its grace, for it lay on the earth like a broken vase of red flowers, and we stood around it, awed by its exotic beauty.

Despite this awe, the mother simply states, "It's dead," and Daddy asks calmly for the bird book. However, they all look glumly back at the dead bird. When the narrator returns with the bird book, Daddy identifies it as a scarlet ibis, a bird from the tropics-- anywhere from South America to Florida.

Mama merely suggests, "Let's finish lunch," but Doodle says he is not hungry, and he kneels beside the ibis. So, his mother tries to tempt Doodle: "We've got peach cobbler for dessert." Still on his knees beside the bird, Doodle says, "I'm going to bury him." An anxious Mama forbids him to touch the dead bird. He promises not to, and without touching the bird, he loops one end of a string around the neck of the bird while singing, "We Shall Gather at the River." Although little Doodle struggles with the shovel, he manages to bury the bird in the flower garden, and after he is finished, he comes into the house. Shortly thereafter, he enters the dining room to find everyone eating their peach cobblers. "Did you get the scarlet ibis buried?" asks Daddy. Doodle does not speak, but nods his head. His mother urges Doodle to wash his hands so he can have some peach cobbler, but Doodle replies, "I'm not hungry."

Aunt Nicey chimes in, "Dead birds is bad luck....'Specially red dead birds!" Clearly, no one seems more affected by the death of the bird than Doodle. 

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