To whom is the ibis compared in "The Scarlet Ibis"

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The scarlet ibis, an exotic bird with a disproportionate wing span and awkward legs, is compared to Doodle in James Hurst's story, which is named after the bird. In fact, it is symbolic and portentous, as well.

In the final scene of the story, the brother takes a listless Doodle out on the water and hands him the oars in order for Doodle to row back against the tide. With a storm brewing overhead, Doodle tries to pull the oars a little harder than he usually does; consequently, he becomes exhausted and frightened both by the approaching storm; as he steps out of the skiff, he falls onto the mud. Regaining his stance, he tries to wipe the mud from his pants ashamedly. But, in his "cracked pride" the brother affords Doodle no mercy; instead, he begins to walk hurriedly in the storm. Doodle, too, walks quickly, so the brother begins to run. Doodle calls out, "Brother, Brother, don't leave me! Don't leave me!"

The knowledge that Doodle's and my plans had come to naught was biter, and that streak of cruelty within me awakened. I ran as fast as I could, leaving him far behind with a all of rain dividing us.

As the wind and torrents of rain fall, the brother peers through the curtain of rain, but no one comes. Finally, he backtracks and finds Doodle seated on the ground, "his face buried in his arms." The brother calls to him, "Let's go, Doodle."  When there is no response, he lifts Doodle's head that limply falls backward. On his shirtfront is a bright red stain. Instantly, the brother cries, "Doodle, Doodle!" but there is no answer. Much like the scarlet ibis, 

He lay very awkwardly, with his head thrown far back, making his vermilion neck appear unusually long and slim. His little legs, bent sharply at the knees, had never before seemed so fragile, so thin....

Then, the brother learns the symbolism of the scarlet ibis as well as its role as a portent of what would come. 

For a long, long time, it seemed forever, I lay there crying, sheltering my fallen scarlet ibis from the heresy of the rain.