James Hurst uses a variety of literary devices to create The Scarlet Ibis, but symbolism is the most important. Hurst’s short story is dominated by the color red and nature.
Doodle is surprised to find a Scarlet Ibis, laying dead next to the bleeding Tree. It was a rare bird, and it traveled a lot before dying. Doodle can be compared to this bird in a number of ways. Doodle has achieved many great things. Just like a Scarlet Ibis who travels long distances, Doodle survived birth despite all odds. Doodle, like the bird, lived a shorter life than anticipated.
Hurst uses the color red throughout the story to symbolize death and foreshadow Doodle’s death. In the second paragraph, Hurst refers to Doodle as a “tiny red body” after he was born. Hurst uses the color symbolism in this passage to warn readers of Doodle’s impending death. Hurst also uses the Scarlet Ibis as a symbol of death, a bird that dies under the bleeding tree. Hurst’s last use of red as a symbol for death occurs at the end, when Doodle is killed. “He was bleeding profusely from the mouth. His neck and shirt front were a bright red,” (page 6)
Hurst describes Doodle’s death with this final symbol, but instead of depicting the color red in a terrible light he calls it brilliant. In order to make a comparison between the Scarlet Ibis and Doodles death, Hurst uses this last symbol. Nature is an important theme throughout the entire story. Doodle, as well as the narrator, are enriched by the beauty and wonder of the natural world. The Old Woman Swamp is described repeatedly before and after events in the story. Doodle’s first encounter with the swamp is filled with wildflowers. The nature motif that Doodle uses repeatedly connects him to the ibis as well as to the world of nature. It also highlights his beautiful life, which is quite different from those of other children. This text is filled with powerful red themes. The title “The Scarlet Ibis” is scarlet, a shade red. The ibis is perched in the tree that is bleeding, reminding readers of red. Doodle’s red shirt and skin are stained by blood when he dies. Doodle is also described by the narrator as having a reddish-purple body when he’s a child: “a tiny, reddish body that shriveled up” (Part I). In the story, red is a symbol of death. It also represents beauty because it’s associated with the ibis. It may seem contradictory, but this is an accurate representation of Doodle’s life.
Doodle’s brother tries to get him to touch the casket he was given as a child, but he refuses. Doodle’s fear is that touching the casket will invite death back to his life. The casket is what Doodle was expected to do, but it never happened.