Exploring the Evocative Power of Imagery in "The Scarlet Ibis"
In The Scarlet Ibis, symbolism is used as a main story telling element. It expresses the character, Brother’s, feelings toward all that happens, and shows his connections to events taking place in the story. In the story, the character called Brother learns to deal with his feelings of hate, embarrassment, and hope for his little brother, who he calls Doodle. He also has to encourage and push Doodle to become normal and fit into society. Brother at the end has to cope with the events of his brother’s death and his inability to succeed on making him normal. In “The Scarlet Ibis”, James Hurst uses the color red, the barn loft and the grindstone as symbols to offer greater insight into abstract ideas that are difficult to understand on their own.
Red is used as a connecting point in The Scarlet Ibis to connect nature to all the events happening. The color red in society makes some think of blood, and blood makes us think of hurt or death. The scarlet ibis(the bird) is red, the “bleeding tree” makes us think of red, and the bush which Doodle dies on his red. When Doodle dies, the narrator remarks “He had been bleeding from the mouth, and his neck and the front of his shirt were stained a brilliant red.” This quote is disturbing for many reasons but the main is Brother saying that his little brother’s blood is a “brilliant red”. The word “brilliant” in society is used to describe something amazing or beautiful. Brother shocks us readers when he describes his dying brother’s bleed as amazing or beautiful. James Hurt’s used this to show us how Brother is seeing this conflict. He sees his brother that he loves, dead, so he finds beauty in the situation to cope with the face that Doodle is dead. Earlier when Brother and Doodle find the Scarlet Ibis dead brother thinks “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 beauty.” He doesn’t have any attachment to the Ibis so he sees it as he would a painting, and the feeling of beauty comes to mind. When he sees his brother dead he calls this earlier feeling to come face to face with his brother’s death.
The Barn Loft is small, cramped, and dark. It is the home of Doodle’s baby coffin that his father bought when he was born. The Barn Loft represents how Brother feels about his little brother Doodle. Brother shows Doodle the coffin before he teaches him to walk, which is interesting. Brother may love Doodle but is still finding a connection to him, and this is because he is not the brother he wanted. He is not athletic or normal and cannot do everything Brother can. He needs special care and needs to be carried through obstacles. At this point in the story Brother is caught between loving Doodle and being embarrassed by him for his flaws. These feelings of embarrassment and neglect are completely normal to any human being, but Brother can’t talk to anyone about it. This drives him to lock Doodle in the shed. He uses the shed to show Doodle what it’s like to be scared and trapped. Brother even admits it was mean to his little brother, that isn’t healthy, but isn’t that big of a deal. Brother’s feelings of shame, embarrassment, and hate for his brother will remain in the shed, never to be looked upon, like the coffin.
A grindstone in The Scarlet Ibis is used to show Brother sharpening his mind. A grindstone in tradition is a tool used to sharpen tools, usually on a farm. The phrase “putting your nose to the grindstone” means to focus and make a new sharp product. The grindstone is mentioned in the beginning of the story and only in the beginning, but is very important to the story. Brother, who is the narrator of the story who is remarking about these events in his adulthood, says “ A grindstone stands where the bleeding tree stood, just outside the kitchen door.” The bleeding tree is where the Ibis was found in the story, but what happened to it? Later in the beginning Brother remarks “But sometimes (like right now), as I sit in the cool, green-draped parlor, the grindstone begins to turn, and time with all its changes is ground away – and I remember Doodle.” This shows us how the grindstone isn’t a physical item, just a way Brother is reminded of Doodle.
This suggests that Brother thinks of his mind and him remembering Doodle as a grindstone for his mind. He sees it as everytime he recaps Doodle’s life, he sharpens his mind and his memory. In his mind everything is carefully organized to certain memories. He remembers exactly what happened on the days he narrates about, he remember the weather, sky, and time. Brother is narrating these memories to sharpen his memory, even though it is painful to him to remember his brother death, it is healthy to him.
James Hurst’s use of the symbols, the color red, the barn loft, and the grindstone to help expand the story beyond the words we read to a new level. The color red helped us understand Brother’s mind in all the conflict of the story and how he related it. The barn loft helped us understand how Brother let go his hatred and embarrassment for his brother, to move on to loving and caring for him. The grindstone helped us both understand the narrator, Brother’s, point of view, and how his mind functions after his Brother’s death. Authors use these kind of symbols to unveil the inner mind's of characters and narrators of the story. They help us understand the connections between events and clarify the message of the text.
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