James Hurst’s novel, The Scarlet Ibis, is a piece rich in parallels and literary devices that evokes emotions of empathy and regret from the very beginning. Its central theme is the guilt and shame of the protagonist over the death of his younger brother. Above all, the author emphasizes these feelings with sad motifs and descriptions of a depressing environment. He also uses a large number of symbols to explain the emotions and feelings of the characters in detail. The story questions how a person who feels responsible for the death of a loved one can acknowledge it even after several years and what the consequences of such remorse are.
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One of the central symbols of the entire work is the red colour, which primarily foreshadows and represents grief and death. A tragic undertone appears in the second paragraph when Hearst describes Doodle after his birth. ‘He seemed all head, with a tiny body which was red and shriveled like an old man’s (Hurst 1).’ The author uses this symbolism and red paint to warn the reader of the fear and the possibility of Doodle’s imminent death. At the end of the novel, it is also present as a personification of the tragic event. ‘He had been bleeding from the mouth, and his neck and the front of his shirt were stained a brilliant red (Hurst 6).’ Hurst writes this last metaphorical phrase to describe Doodles’ death, but instead of showing red as horrible, he refers to it as brilliant. It is done to demonstrate the guilt the protagonist feels. The narrator also defines blood as shiny because of the positive connotation of the word, indicating that the protagonist finds death somewhat beautiful.
Furthermore, another vital element of the piece is nature, which acts as a recurring motif. The beauty of the natural world enhances the life of Doodle and the narrator. There are regular descriptions of places such as the Old Woman’s Swamp, Horsehead’s Landing, and the family home itself, before and after the story’s events. The characters spend a great deal of time there, as Doodle is very fond of the wildflowers and the world around him. Equally significant is the symbol of the ibis, which is closely related to Doodle and acts as a category that connects feelings and experiences.
Unfortunately, the main character admitted everything only after some time, and he became ashamed of his actions and misunderstanding. He did everything to be proud of Doodle, but at the same time, he was only motivated by personal gain and pride. He forgot about his brother’s feelings and did not realize that he was very attached to him. He did not recognize that Doodle was very vulnerable and lacked love and care, and when he did, it was too late.
It is significant to indicate that the author uses symbols, images, and metaphors; this helps to set the sad tone of history. First, James Hurst ‘s ‘Scarlet Ibis’ makes extensive use of figurative language that makes the reader sympathize with the characters and therefore worry about them. For example, Hurst uses metaphors when he states, ‘Doodle! Doodle! I cried, shaking him, but there was no answer but the ropy rain (Hurst 6).’ When Doodle dies, he is compared to a beautiful scarlet ibis who also died similarly. This creates a connection between the readers and the characters. Another example in ‘Scarlet Ibis’ that creates a pathetic tone is when James uses hyperbole to exaggerate strong feelings. For example, ‘There is within me (and with sadness I have watched it in others) a knot of cruelty borne by the stream of love…’. (Hurst, 2). Since Doodle was born with physical disabilities, Doodle’s brother thought he could be cruel to Doodle.
‘The Scarlet Ibis’ is a melancholy and pitiful story, which the author tells through the use of comparisons. For example, as Hurst writes, ‘…but the oriole nest in the elm was untenanted and rocked back and forth like an empty cradle (Hurst 1).’ The author compares a nest to a baby’s cradle in this analogy. The nest and the cradle are similar because both are designed for an infant. This prepared the reader for Doodle’s birth and the family’s emptiness when he died. Moreover, Hurst writes, ‘…and finally collapse back onto the bed like an old worn-out doll (Hurst 1)’. This parallel is necessary to demonstrate that the Doodle cannot walk or stand. At the same time, the fact that he is being compared to a doll that is no more needed makes one feel sad.
Furthermore, ‘The Scarlet Ibis’ is a tragic story because of the imagery utilized. These images present the reader with a vivid picture of what is happening in the narrative. When the scarlet ibis appears, the psychological and physical resemblance to Doodle becomes clear. This can be explained because the ibis was lonely and clearly strayed from home; he is scarlet, as Doodle was at birth, and has an awkward body, gaining refinement only after death. Doodle was the only member of the family who was so touched by the bird’s death and decided to bury it. Doodle looks ridiculous when he hides the bird because he has trouble with the shovel, and his family tries not to laugh.
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The story of the red ibis directly parallels that of Doodle, as both become victims of forces beyond their power. The brother notices that the bird is beautiful and graceful, but its wings break when it tries to fly away, falling to the floor extinct. Like the ibis, Doodle’s limbs are ‘uncoordinated,’ causing him to fall frequently. Thus, the red ibis symbolizes how fragile and beautiful can easily be lost.
Hurst, James. The Scarlet Ibis. Atlantic Monthly, 1960.