The dying scarlet ibis that the family encounters in the final section of the story is a clear symbol for Doodle. Just like Doodle, the ibis's strength has diminished, and though it has fought through a terrible storm it simply cannot hold on any longer, alone and weak. The narrator does not realize just how alike Doodle and the ibis are until he holds Doodle's body in his arms at the very end, noticing the red of Doodle's blood and the thinness of his limbs. The story builds up to the appearance of this powerful symbol at the climax.
Nature is a recurring motif throughout this story. The beauty of the natural world enhances Doodle and the narrator's lives. There are recurring descriptions of places such as the Old Woman Swamp, Horsehead Landing, and the family house itself, before and after the events of the story. Doodle is enthralled by the beauty of the wildflowers in the swamp the very first time he visits. This recurring nature motif connects Doodle to the ibis and to the natural world itself, and accentuates the beauty of his life, though it is very different from the lives of most children his age.
The Color Red
The color red is a powerful motif throughout this text. The title itself is "The Scarlet Ibis," and scarlet is a shade of red. The ibis perches in the bleeding tree, which reminds readers of the color red as well. When Doodle dies, his blood stains his skin and his shirt red. Aside from these obvious references, the narrator also describes Doodle's body as red when he is a baby: "a tiny body which was red and shriveled" (Part I). In this story, the color red symbolizes death—however, it also symbolizes beauty, through the beautiful ibis, its tree, and nature. This may seem paradoxical, but it is a fitting representation of the jumble of contradictions that comprise Doodle's life.
There is a reason why Doodle is so reluctant to reach out and touch the casket that was built for him as a baby, when his brother brings him into the barn and tries to force him to. The casket is a symbol for the death that Doodle evaded, and he fears that if he physically connects with it he is inviting death back into his life. The casket represents what was supposed to happen to Doodle, but which, by some strange trick of fate, did not.
The grindstone is a much subtler symbol. In the beginning, the narrator tells readers that the grindstone has taken the place of the bleeding tree, which was where the scarlet ibis, which symbolizes Doodle, was perched. In this way, the grindstone serves as a stand-in for Doodle himself, now that he is not part of the narrator's life. The narrator describes the grindstone as grinding away the past and bringing him back to the time of all his memories with Doodle. It is a symbol for the past and the means by which the narrator brings back his memories.
The Scarlet Ibis Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for The Scarlet Ibis is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
By the time I had done this Doodle had excused himself and had slipped out into the yard. He was looking up into the bleeding tree. "It's a great big red bird!" he called. The bird croaked loudly again, and Mama and Daddy came out...