The Scarlet Ibis

The Scarlet Ibis Metaphors and Similes

"It was in the clove of seasons, summer was dead but autumn had not yet been born, that the ibis lit in the bleeding tree."

This story is full of figurative language, metaphors, and similes, and the very first line is one of these. The narrator describes summer as being "dead" and autumn soon to be "born." The metaphor of seasons dying and coming to life fits with the theme of death that surrounds this story. At the beginning, Doodle is born, just like autumn will be. By the end, he has died with the summer. 

"There is within me (and with sadness I have watched it in others) a knot of cruelty borne by the stream of love, much as our blood sometimes bears the seed of our destruction, and at times I was mean to Doodle."

The use of metaphors involving natural things—a "stream of love" and "seed of destruction"—fits with the natural world's prominent role in this story. The narrator describes the tensions in his relationship with Doodle using the thing that they are able to connect the most over: nature's beauty. In this description, there are some traces of guilt; the narrator feels guilty about the way he treated Doodle, because now he tells this story in retrospect in full knowledge of what that meanness will lead to.

"I did not know then that pride is a wonderful, terrible thing, a seed that bears two vines, life and death."

Natural metaphors and metaphors of life and death combine in this poignant sentence, in which the narrator reveals his awareness of the destructive nature of pride. This metaphorical vine can be attributed not only to pride, but to the narrator himself. The narrator is so ruled by pride that he has become this vine, full of both life and death. He brings Doodle life through the example he sets and the motivation he provides, but he also brings about his death by pushing him too far beyond his limits. 

"Keeping a nice secret is very hard to do, like holding your breath."

This simile appears when Doodle learns to walk and anticipates the story's conclusion. The comparison of keeping a secret to holding your breath is important, because again, it fits with the story's contrast of life and death. Breath and breathing is a clear sign of life, while not breathing—holding your breath—is representative of death. In a way, this suggests that the brothers are keeping a deadly secret. Even though Doodle's ability to walk is nothing short of a miracle, it will give the brothers false hubris and lead them to believe they can accomplish what in reality is just not possible.

"Even death did not mar its grace, for it lay on the earth like a broken vase of red flowers, and we stood around it, awed by its exotic beauty."

Here is yet another natural simile; in this case, though, something already part of the natural world—the ibis—is being compared to something else natural, or flowers. It is important to note, however, that these flowers are not wildflowers; they are instead flowers in a vase, flowers that have been tamed and perhaps tainted by human hands. The vase is broken, just like the ibis has been broken by the storm and driven to death.