An Analysis of The Scarlet Ibis

The title-“The Scarlet Ibis.” Let’s think symbolically here. Scarlet…red… blood, danger, death, evil. Doodle’s brother mentions the “knot of cruelty borne by love, much as blood sometimes bears the seed of our destruction…” Blood. There’s the scarlet again. This story is red. From Doodle’s vermilion neck to the red leaves of the bleeding tree. Red, red, and more RED. When Doodle tries to crawl…what color does he turn? RED. What color is he at birth? That’s right. RED. What color is his coffin? Mahogany, a shade of red.

“Hope no longer hid in the dark palmetto thicket but perched like a cardinal in the lacy toothbrush tree, brilliantly visible.” Cardinals are RED. “…beach locusts were singing in the myrtle trees.” Myrtle trees…crepe myrtles…crepe myrtles are reddish. And the fact that it’s a Scarlet Ibis (of South America, E. ruber, occasionally seen in the S United States) makes it even more significant. Scarlet Ibises are obviously rare, as is Doodle. Doodle is an amazingly creative and wonderful mind trapped in a small, insufficient body. He would be able to do great things–if he wasn’t hindered by his weakness.

Alright. So the theme of the story is…? Hmm. Maybe Doodle’s brother saw some of his own weaknesses in Doodle, so he tries to fix them…quite forcefully. But…no. Doodle’s brother isn’t crippled…even though there’s really no hardcore evidence in the story that says so. You can pretty much infer from his need for perfection that he hasn’t experienced something even remotely close. No, that’s wrong. What if….he has “failed” himself and/or his family in the past…and sees “fixing” Doodle as a way to reconcile? But, in a way, the brother is like the the storm that pushed the ibis from it’s natural surroundings. He pushed Doodle off of his natural course. In the end, they (the ibis and Doodle) both die from their “storm.” Yeah.

So I’ve thoroughly analyzed the narrator…but I haven’t gotten to the theme yet…have I? I guess the theme is pretty much the same as the moral, right? (Moral Mor”al, n. 2. The inner meaning or significance of a fable, a narration, an occurence, an experience, etc.; the practical lesson which anything is designed or fitted to teach; the doctrine meant to be inculcated by a fiction; a maxim.) Yeah. So….I guess the theme of the story would have to be… Don’t try to fix your problems through fixing the problems of someone else. Or…maybe… Don’t try to force someone or something to be something they’re not supposed to be. If they’re meant to be that something, it will happen at it’s own pace. Be patient.

The setting of the story in which we most often find ourselves is Old Woman Swamp. “I dragged him across the burning cotton field to share with him the only beauty I knew, Old Woman Swamp. I pulled the go-cart through the sawtooth fern, down into the green dimness where the palmetto fronds whispered by the stream. I lifted him out and set him down in the soft rubber grass beside a tall pine. His eyes were round with wonder as he gazed about him, and his little hands began to stroke the rubber grass. Then he began to cry.” This description of Old Woman Swamp gives the reader the impression that the swamp is quite possibly the most beautiful place in the world.

I mean, if just looking at it can bring tears to your eyes, it must be special, right? I think that the swamp is also a character in this story because it is a beacon of hope for Doodle. He accomplishes so many things here: how to stand, how to walk, how to climb rope vines, how to box, how to swim, and how to row. Old Woman Swamp seems, to them, to be the epitome of perfection–for when they’re there, they feel free to be themselves (whether that means dancing around bedecked in flowers, or just being happy) and they don’t feel the need to impress. Old Woman Swamp is something they aspire to, I think. They practically idolize the place. It is part of them both. It has rubber grass…Doodle spent the entirety of his infancy on a rubber sheet. Coincidence? I think not. Doodle wants to live in Old Woman Swamp…forever. So…Baby-Rubber Sheet, and Life-Rubber Grass, just to clarify.

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