The Scarlet Ibis

The Scarlet Ibis Study Guide

"The Scarlet Ibis" is a short story written by James Hurst, first published in The Atlantic Monthly in July 1960. It is the first and only piece by Hurst to come to prominence and reach a wide audience, but it has had a profound effect on the literary world, winning the "Atlantic First" award and being frequently republished in anthologies, textbooks, and other collections. Today, it is often taught in schools as part of a literature curriculum.

This story takes place around the time of World War I, when the implications of such carnage are still fresh in everyone's minds. Through a simple story of a boy with high hopes for his disabled little brother, "The Scarlet Ibis" relays important themes of pride, differences, determination, brotherhood, and respecting limits, and the relevance of these messages in all time periods contributes to this work's timeless allure. This story details the lengths someone may go to try to fit in or be "normal," whatever that might mean. 

When asked about this work, Hurst said that there are three "characters" in this story: Doodle (the disabled brother), the narrator, and the setting, which plays an important role in the brothers' development. Hurst was reluctant to speak on the meaning of this story, because he claimed that authors very rarely understand what they write. He believed, however, that it "comments on the tenacity and the splendor of the human spirit."

Hurst has also said that he wrote this piece as part of a process of coming to terms with the failure of his singing career, for which he attended school and pursued for three years before giving up. He confirmed at the same time, however, that the characters and events of this story are all the product of his imagination, and are not autobiographical in any sense.