illustration of a scarlet ibis cradling a boy's body

The Scarlet Ibis

by James Hurst

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How is Doodle's appearance described as a baby in "The Scarlet Ibis"?

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Early in his short story "The Scarlet Ibis," James Hurst impresses on the reader the unique qualities of Doodle. His birth is referred to as almost divine because his head was enclosed by a membrane like a cap, referred to as a "caul," and the boy's aunt says that "cauls were made from Jesus' nightgown." This specialness is reinforced with the realization that the boy is physically challenged and may die in infancy. The parents even have a coffin built. Doodle, however, doesn't die.

From the outset, his older brother is not impressed and refers to the baby as a "disappointment" and describes him as having "a tiny body which was red and shriveled like an old man's." This description is ripe with symbolism and foreshadowing. Doodle does indeed seem to be like an old man. He isn't able to walk until he is five and is never able to live up to his brother's physical expectations. He also seems wiser than his chronological age. He intensely appreciates the beauty of nature, makes up fantastical stories, and is particularly touched by the death of the ibis, which he buries and sings over. The color red is symbolic throughout the story. The ibis is red and Doodle's shirt is stained with his red blood when his brother finds him at the end of the story. The fact that he is born this color provides an important clue for the rest of the story.   

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Doodle was described almost as a wrinkly old man.  He wasn't quite the normal color either because his heart was so weak.  HIs head was a lot larger than the rest of his body, too.  He just did not look like a normal little baby as he should have. 

The story describes him in the following sentence.  "He seemed all head with a tiny body which was red and shriveled like an old man's."

Doodle most likely had a big smile for a baby.  It was that smile that saved his life when Brother went into his room to smother him--he couldn't live with a brother who wasn't "all there."  But Doodle smiled.  He was all there.

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