What things point out the tragic ending of "The Scarlet Ibis?"

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mercut1469 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

It shouldn't be surprising that death lurks at the end of James Hurst's short story "The Scarlet Ibis." Hurst uses foreshadowing throughout the story to suggest a tragic ending. The narrator and brother of Doodle is telling the story from many years after the events took place so his narration is colored by references to death since he already knows that Doodle will not live.

In the very first paragraph he uses death imagery:

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. 

Death is present in the first part of the story when it is revealed the family, except Aunt Nicey, thought Doodle would die as an infant. In one scene, the brother even shows Doodle the coffin which was originally meant for him. He forces Doodle to touch it and threatens to run away if his brother doesn't do so. The scene foreshadows later events when the brother runs away from Doodle in the rainstorm, prompting the boy's death.

In the fantasy story Doodle tells about Peter and the peacock, the narrator uses an almost deathlike reference to sleep:

When Peter was ready to go to sleep, the peacock spread his magnificent tail, enfolding the boy gently like a closing go-to-sleep flower, burying him in the glorious iridescent, rustling vortex.

The boy's mother also mentions the dead soldiers from World War I, praying over a neighbor's son who died in the war. The biggest reference to death involves the ibis which is a symbol for Doodle. After the bird dies, Doodle buries it and even sings a hymn over the bird's grave. After the death of the bird, the boy's aunt comments:

"Dead birds is bad luck," said Aunt Nicey, poking her head from the kitchen door. "Specially red dead birds!" 

The death of the bird foreshadows Doodle's death and the color red, which is present throughout the story (scarlet ibis, bleeding tree, mahogany coffin) is part of this focus on death.

Read the study guide:
The Scarlet Ibis

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