The Scarlet Ibis

The Scarlet Ibis Literary Elements


Southern Gothic

Setting and Context

The American South, around 1918, on a family farm near a swamp and a creek

Narrator and Point of View

The narrator is a young boy, older brother to Doodle, the disabled child that this story centers around. The majority of the story is in first-person past, since the narrator in the present is telling a story about something that happened in the past.

Tone and Mood

There is a heavy tone of guilt present throughout most of the story; the narrator feels he is to blame for Doodle's death, and since he is telling this in the present, he already knows what happened and he feels shame about it. The mood lightens at certain points in the story, such as when Doodle experiences Old Woman Swamp for the first time and learns to walk, but overall it is predominantly remorseful and guilty.

Protagonist and Antagonist

The protagonist is the narrator, Doodle's older brother, and though there is no physical antagonist, the source of conflict is Doodle's disability.

Major Conflict

The main conflict in the story is Doodle's disability. After Doodle lives when no one expected him to, the narrator must figure out how to cope with having a disabled brother who is not what he always pictured his little brother would be.


The climax of the story is the moment when Doodle learns to walk. The beginning of the story had been working up to this occasion, and what follows is the falling action that comes as a result of this climax.


The author incorporates a lot of foreshadowing into this story, which makes sense, since the narrator is telling a story about the past in the present and he already knows everything that will happen. Some of the notable instances of foreshadowing are the following:

"They named him William Armstrong, which is like tying a big tail on a small kite. Such a name sounds good only on a tombstone."
"Renaming my brother was perhaps the kindest thing I ever did for him, because nobody expects much from someone called Doodle."
"Dead birds is bad luck," said Aunt Nicey, poking her head from the kitchen door. "Specially red dead birds!"






This story is full of vivid imagery, typically involving the natural world, as nature features prominently into the lives of the two brothers. The narrator paints a picture of the house they live in and the garden around it with the line, "The flower garden was strained with rotting brown magnolia petals and ironweeds grew rank amid the purple phlox." He goes on to describe their favorite place, the Old Woman Swamp, with vibrant imagery, and does the same with the scarlet ibis as it flies into the bleeding tree and eventually dies at their feet.


The narrator's pride is a paradox, because all at once it brings about both life and death. It is his pride that prompts him to teach Doodle to walk, which allows Doodle to live in a way he never has before. However, it is also this pride that makes him push Doodle past his limit, which brings his literal death. A good line that exemplifies this is "I did not know then that pride is a wonderful, terrible thing, a seed that bears two vines, life and death." It seems paradoxical that both concepts, life and death, could exist at once in a single entity, but this is the case for the narrator's pride.



Metonymy and Synecdoche



The narrator personifies many elements of the natural world, through lines such as the following:

"The last graveyard flowers were blooming, and their smell drifted across the cotton field and through every room of our house, speaking softy the names of our dead."
"I pulled the go-cart through the saw-tooth fern, down into the green dimness where the palmetto fronds whispered by the stream."