Symbolism in The Scarlet Ibis by James Hurst

Categories: The Scarlet Ibis


"The Scarlet Ibis" is a captivating short story written by James Hurst that explores themes of love, pride, and the cruelty of expectations. Set in rural North Carolina during the early 20th century, the narrative revolves around the lives of two brothers, Doodle and the unnamed narrator. Symbolism is an essential aspect of the story, as Hurst utilizes various symbols to convey profound meanings and emotions. This essay delves into the symbolic elements present in "The Scarlet Ibis," analyzing their significance and how they contribute to the story's overall themes.

The Scarlet Ibis

One of the most striking symbols in the story is the scarlet ibis, a beautiful bird native to South America. When Doodle and the narrator discover the ibis in their yard, it becomes a significant representation of Doodle himself. Just as the ibis is out of its natural habitat, Doodle is born with physical limitations, which separate him from others. The scarlet color of the bird symbolizes Doodle's delicate nature and serves as a foreshadowing of his tragic fate.

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As the narrator's actions lead to the bird's demise, it parallels the manner in which his excessive pride and unrealistic expectations cause the eventual downfall of his brother.

The Coffin

Throughout the story, a recurring symbol is the coffin that the narrator builds for Doodle after he is born with physical disabilities. The coffin represents the narrator's initial inability to accept Doodle's condition, as he sees his brother's existence as burdensome and a limitation to his own desires.

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The narrator's actions of building the coffin are rooted in fear and shame, symbolizing his unwillingness to confront the reality of his brother's differences. However, as the story progresses, the coffin transforms into a symbol of hope and determination, as Doodle learns to walk and overcome his physical challenges.

The Color Red

The color red is a dominant symbol in "The Scarlet Ibis," signifying both life and death. It represents the blood ties that bind the brothers together, emphasizing the depth of their relationship. Initially, the color red reflects the narrator's intense embarrassment at having a disabled brother, highlighting his struggle to accept Doodle's uniqueness. However, as the story unfolds, red takes on a more positive meaning, symbolizing the love and affection between the siblings. Ultimately, the color red becomes associated with the scarlet ibis, connecting life and death and underscoring the tragic consequences of the narrator's pride.

The Storm

The storm that occurs towards the end of the story serves as a powerful symbol, reflecting the emotional turmoil and conflict within the narrator. As the storm approaches, Doodle and the narrator are in the midst of their intense argument, and the turbulent weather mirrors the intensity of their emotions. The thunder and lightning symbolize the anger and frustration the narrator feels towards Doodle, while the heavy rain represents the tears and sadness that accompany their heated exchange. The storm also foreshadows the tragic event that follows, as nature seems to respond to the darkness of the narrator's actions.

The "Graveyard"

The "Graveyard" is a symbol of death and the inevitable consequences of the narrator's pride. It is a dark and eerie place, hinting at the tragedy that is to come. The narrator's insistence on showing Doodle the "Graveyard" is symbolic of his desire to demonstrate his dominance and control over his brother, as he leads him to a place of sorrow and death. This symbolizes the narrator's oppressive nature and lack of understanding regarding the value of Doodle's life.


James Hurst's "The Scarlet Ibis" masterfully employs symbolism to evoke complex emotions and deliver profound themes. The scarlet ibis, the coffin, the color red, the storm, and the "Graveyard" all contribute to the rich tapestry of the story. Through these symbols, Hurst effectively explores the themes of love, pride, and the consequences of unmet expectations.

The scarlet ibis serves as a powerful representation of Doodle's fragility and the tragic result of the narrator's pride. The coffin starts as a manifestation of the narrator's shame but transforms into a symbol of hope and determination. The color red embodies both the narrator's embarrassment and the profound love that ultimately binds the brothers together. The storm symbolizes the emotional turmoil and conflict within the narrator, while the "Graveyard" foreshadows the dark turn of events.

In conclusion, "The Scarlet Ibis" is a poignant tale that reminds readers of the consequences of unchecked pride and the importance of embracing individuality and differences. Through the skillful use of symbolism, Hurst delivers a timeless message about the complexities of human relationships and the power of love and acceptance. As readers reflect on the tragic fate of Doodle and his brother, they are left with a lasting impression of the significance of compassion and understanding in a world often clouded by prejudice and unrealistic expectations.

Updated: Aug 16, 2023
Cite this page

Symbolism in The Scarlet Ibis by James Hurst. (2023, Aug 16). Retrieved from

Symbolism in The Scarlet Ibis by James Hurst essay
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