illustration of a scarlet ibis cradling a boy's body

The Scarlet Ibis

by James Hurst
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What are some similes in "The Scarlet Ibis"?

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A simile is a comparison using the words "like" or "as." Hurst uses many of these in "The Scarlet Ibis." A few of them are listed below.

The very young Doodle, struggling for mobility, would "collapse back onto the bed like an old worn-out doll."

A favorite haunt...

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A simile is a comparison using the words "like" or "as." Hurst uses many of these in "The Scarlet Ibis." A few of them are listed below.

The very young Doodle, struggling for mobility, would "collapse back onto the bed like an old worn-out doll."

A favorite haunt of Doodle and the narrator is Old Woman Swamp. On the day that the narrator decides Doodle will learn to walk, the two are sitting by the swamp, where "the sick- sweet smell of bay flowers hung everywhere like a mournful song."

The narrator describes Doodle's struggles to stand and walk as follows: "He collapsed onto the grass like a half-empty flour sack."

In contrast to the mournful smell of the bay flowers, when it becomes clear that Doodle can learn to walk, "our laughter pealing through the swamp like a ringing bell."

Two lines later, Hurst uses another simile, comparing the abstract concept of hope to a bird in a tree: "Hope no longer hid in the dark palmetto thicket but perched like a cardinal in the lacy toothbrush tree, brilliantly visible."

When the narrator is about to show off Doodle's walking to the family, he thinks: "Keeping a nice secret is very hard to do, like holding your breath."

Hurst's use of similes helps develop the narrator's distinctive voice and helps the reader to develop a sensory picture of what is going in the story that adds to its emotional impact.

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There are many of figures of speech like similes and metaphors in "The Scarlet Ibis."  Here is a list of some of them.  I've bolded the similes, but have also included metaphors used by Hurst in the story.

  • "It was in the clove of seasons . . ." (metaphor)
  •  ". . . the oriole nest in the elm was untenanted and rocked back and forth like an empty cradle."
  • "They named him William Armstrong, which is like tying a big tail on a small kite."
  • "Crawling backward made him look like a doodlebug."
  • "I did not know then that pride is a wonderful, terrible thing, a seed that bears two vines, life and death. (metaphor)
  • . . . the peacock spread his magnificent tail, enfolding the boy gently like a closing go-to-sleep flower."
  • "Promise hung about us like the leaves . . ."
  • "Even death did not mar its grace, for it lay on the earth like a broken vase of red flowers."

I hope this helps!  Hurst's imagery in "The Scarlet Ibis" shows his wonderful ability to paint a picture for the reader by using figures of speech like similes and metaphors.  

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Remember that a simile is a form of literary comparison where one object is compared to another object using the word "like" or "as". Normally the two objects are dissimilar - we would not normally think of associating or linking them, but the author normally makes a point or forces us to see the object they are describing in a new and surprising way because of the comparison.

Looking at "The Scarlet Ibis", therefore, there are some great examples of similes. To me, one of the most important in the text is the description of the dead Scarlet Ibis after it has just fallen from the tree:

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.

Here the dead scarlet ibis is compared to a broken vase of red flowers. Note how this reflects both its fragile, broken state as a dead bird, but it also conveys its incredible beauty - it is compared to red flowers, even though they are in a broken vase.

What is key to realise, however, is how the mention of red links the scarlet ibis to Doodle. Remember the simile that is used to describe him at birth:

He seemed all head, with a tiny body which was red and shrivelled like an old man's.

Here of course the comparison is less than flattering, emphasising as it does the unnatural appearance of Doodle, but it serves to link the character of Doodle with the scarlet ibis - a comparison that becomes very important at the end of the novel.

So, there are two important similes for you from this excellent story. Have a go and looking back at it and finding some more now. Good luck!

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