illustration of a scarlet ibis cradling a boy's body

The Scarlet Ibis

by James Hurst

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Discussion Topic

Symbols in "The Scarlet Ibis" beyond the scarlet ibis and Doodle


In "The Scarlet Ibis," additional symbols include the storm, representing impending doom and the destructive power of nature, and the bleeding tree, symbolizing life, death, and fragility. The color red recurs throughout the story, symbolizing both beauty and blood, highlighting themes of life and death.

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What other symbols are used in "The Scarlet Ibis" besides the scarlet ibis and Doodle?

You might like to consider how the opening description of setting foreshadows the eventual death of both the scarlet ibis and of Doodle, who you are right to identify as being linked through symbolism in a very profound way. Consider the description that opens the story, and note the way that death is refered to:

The flower garden was stained with rotting brown magnolia petals, and ironweeds grew rank amid the purple phlox. The five o'clocks by the chimney still marked time, but the oriole nest in the elm was untenanted and rocked back and forth like an empty cradle. The last graveyard flowers were blooming, and their smell drifted across the cotton field and through every room of our house, speaking softly the names of our dead.

Note the way that this opening paragraph becomes strongly symbolic of the dead and the dying. Words such as "rotting" and "untenanted" and "rank" all bring to mind the death of various forms of nature, and let us not forget the way that in the opening sentence of the novel, the tree where the scarlet ibis settles is described as "bleeding." Lastly, the scent of the flowers in the graveyard provide an unescapable reminder of death and mortality.

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What are some symbols in the short story "The Scarlet Ibis," besides the bird itself?

    The "red, dead bird" in the James Hurst short story, "The Scarlet Ibis," does indeed symbolize the frailty of Doodle, the beautiful but imperfect child whose life is also suddenly cut short. Like the ibis, which has traveled a great distance only to discover that he is lost in a strange land, Doodle is also a misplaced youth who has lived longer and covered more ground than anyone could have imagined. But there are other symbols in the story.
    Hurst places the ibis in the appropriately named "bleeding tree." It is from here that the bird tumbles and dies. The only person that thought Doodle would live was--also aptly named--Aunt Nicey, who likened him to Jesus. The hurricane which brought the ibis also symbolizes a bad omen, as do the black storm clouds which cause the final rains.

The sun disappeared and darkness descended, almost like night.

The early darkness symbolizes the approach of death.

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What is another possible symbol for Doodle or the narrator in "The Scarlet Ibis"?

The narrator of the story is described as loving, yet with a capacity to sometimes be cruel. Doodle, on the other hand, is described as sensitive, dependent and, of course, different.

The narrator, therefore, could be symbolized by a heart with a crack running through it. The heart would symbolize the love he has for his brother, and the crack running through it would symbolize his tendency to sometimes be cruel.

The narrator is, for the most part, an elder brother that Doodle depends upon, so another good symbol for the narrator might be a cane. People who need help depend upon a cane, and in the same way Doodle depends upon his brother. You could make this symbol even more appropriate, and take into consideration the end of the story, by having the symbol become a broken cane, symbolizing how, ultimately, the narrator lets his little brother down.

As for Doodle, he might be symbolized as a feather. This would obviously link to the fact that in the story he is symbolized by the scarlet ibis, but a feather also symbolizes sensitivity because it changes its course according to the slightest variation in the wind.

A second appropriate symbol for Doodle might be a snowflake. Every individual snowflake is different, and unique, and so a snowflake would be a good symbol to represent how Doodle is likewise different, and unique.

I hope you like some of these suggestions. Good luck with your assignment!

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What is another possible symbol for Doodle or the narrator in "The Scarlet Ibis"?

Doodle, from James Hurst's short story The Scarlet Ibis, can be symbolized by many different things. Given that you are not allowed to use anything from the novel, and the text is very specific about symbolism and Doodle, your world of choices is actually very open to different symbols.

Here are some suggestions:

1. Doodle is "broken." It is stated at the very beginning when the narrator states that his father has already made him a coffin. Therefore, a broken toy could symbolize him based upon his age and the fact that he is "broken" himself.

2. Doodle could also be represented by a butterfly. The symbol of the butterfly represents regeneration. Those who believe in life after death can use this image to represent Doodle after his death (with hopes that he will not be "broken" like he was in life).

3. Similar to the butterfly, Doodle could be represented by the symbol of the phoenix. Again, the phoenix represents rebirth. Given that the phoenix is a fire-bird, this symbolic image would parallel that of the scarlet ibis (which is red as well).

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