Q:

How is symbolism employed in "The Scarlet Ibis" by James Hurst?

A:

In "The Scarlet Ibis," the ibis itself and the color red are the main symbols within the short story. The ibis represents the narrator's special needs brother, and the color red symbolizes death.

In this short story, a scarlet ibis lands in the narrator's yard while the family is enjoying a meal; its call is heard from the table and draws everyone outside. They find the exotic red bird, pushed off course by a storm, perched in the bleeding tree before it eventually falls from a branch, lands in the dirt and dies.

The only member of the family who takes much notice of the ibis is the narrator's special needs brother, Doodle. Doodle buries the bird in the yard, thus cementing his connection with the ibis.

An ibis is a medium-sized bird with thin, short legs and a long delicate neck, much like Doodle's fragile human frame.

At the story's conclusion, just like the ibis, Doodle gets lost in a rainstorm, falls down and dies from panic and supposed overexertion. Blood is running from Doodle's mouth when the narrator finds his brother’s body. The narrator immediately thinks back to the pile of red that was the ibis after it fell from the bleeding tree and died.

Sources:

  1. mtholyoke.edu

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