The Scarlet Ibis: Analysis of Doodle's Death Witnesses

April 27, 2023
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The Scarlet Ibis: Analysis of Doodle's Death Witnesses essay
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In The Scarlet Ibis there are multiple witnesses throughout this story to support the narrator's innocence. The death of Doodle was a simple misunderstanding and can be easily defended by many symbols in the story. The witnesses that are called to the trial are Doodle’s favorite lie, the nightshade bush, the white house, Doodle’s coffin, and the color red.

The witnesses of Doodle’s death

Doodle’s lie

The first witness is Doodle’s favorite lie. Doodle loved to tell lies, which according to the narrator were more of just stories. So one of Doodle’s favorite lies was about a boy named Peter who had a pet peacock with a ten-foot tail. Peter wore a golden robe that shined so bright that all the sunflowers turned away from the sun to face him. When Peter was ready to sleep, the peacock would wrap it’s tail around Peter and put him to sleep (Hurst 468). This entire story is filled with smaller symbols that can easily be explained. First off, the boy Peter symbolized Doodle. The pet peacock was Doodle’s heart condition. Strangely enough, the height of the peacock’s tail is abnormally large. The ten-foot tail represents his overgrown head or outstanding condition. The golden robe was Doodle’s was his condition making him look different than a normal person. The part in the story where all of the sunflowers turn to him is the parent’s attention turn away from the narrator and focuses on Doodle. The sleep at the end of the story resembles death. All of this ties into when Doodle wants to go to sleep, his heart condition inevitably kills him. His death was purely natural and was unavoidable. The fact that he even lived 6 years was an incredible blessing. The entire peacock was the condition that would lead him to his death, leaving the narrator innocent.

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The nightshade bush

In addition to the death of Doodle, at the end of the story, when the narrator goes back to check on Doodle, he finds something that goes unnoticed. Doodle is seemingly hiding under a bush with his head tucked in his knees (Hurst 475). Not just any bush was he hiding under, but a red nightshade bush. Now the nightshade bush can be related to death and blood through the color red. In the same context of Doodle’s death, he was found with blood coming from his mouth. Now the nightshade bush. Not only can it be inferred that it is deadly or poisonous, but including the side note of Doodle’s sensitive skin, it seems that a poisonous bush would be help culpable for such an act. Side effects to touching or digesting the nightshade berries could possibly include rapid heartbeat, trouble breathing, twitching, paralysis, coma, or death. The fact that all of these things can easily harm Doodle, the nightshade bush was one of the biggest contributors to Doodle’s death.

The white house

At the beginning of the book, the narrator describes a house that is gleaming white (Hurst 462). The deeper meaning of this reference is that the color white in this story is symbolizing innocence. The color of the scarlet ibis’s beak was indeed white as well. This shows that the color of innocence is supported by the text. Indeed at the start of the story, the narrator also included “five o’clock by the chimney still marked time” (Hurst 462). The five o’clock refer to another flower known as the four o’clock flower because they normally bloom from 4:00 pm-8:00 pm, which marks the time. These flowers also come in colors of white, and the reference to white being an innocent color is a major support to the claim that the narrator is innocent of Doodle’s death.

Doodle’s coffin

Throughout the story, the narrator references Doodle’s coffin a couple of times. At one point he even brings Doodle to visit his own coffin and forces him to touch it (Hurst 466). The coffin is said to be covered with a “thin-film” of Paris green which happens to kill off insects. Crazy enough, Doodle was named after the Doodlebug which is an insect known to crawl backward. The Paris green and coffin connect into one symbol because the coffin symbolizes Doodle’s inevitable death. The Paris green is Doodle’s heart disease which foreshadows his unavoidable death.

The red color

The last and final symbol that is so commonly referenced in this story is the color red. Now red in this story resembles mostly these two things: blood, and death. Red is mostly connected to the bleeding tree in which the scarlet ibis was perched on when it fell (Hurst 473). The color of the bird was also red which connects to the color of Doodle’s skin. This is very significant because the rarity of the bird and the rarity of Doodle’s condition are similar in a sense. The bird’s feathers are red just as Doodle’s skin was red. The scarlet ibis was killed by a storm, which was a natural cause. This also can help support that if Doodle was the bird, he died from a natural cause too, which was his condition. Another very small detail is during the summer it was said that strange names were heard around the house. Names about french cities and the loss of a boy named Joe Pearson were mentioned in the story. Joe Pearson was said to be lost in the Belleau wood (Hurst 471). The Battle of Belleau Wood connects to death and blood. Therefore through the smallest details red was definitely a very big play in why the narrator was innocent.

Overall, many of these witnesses are supportive of each other. Some more than others directly connect to Doodle’s death, but all support the underlying claim. From all the witnesses that were brought into this case, the narrator is clearly proven to be innocent in the death of Doodle.


  1. Hurst, J. (1960). The Scarlet Ibis. The Atlantic Monthly, 206(2), 78-83.
  2. Pfaus, B. (1985). James Hurst's "The Scarlet Ibis": A Study Guide from Gale's "Short Stories for Students". Gale, Cengage Learning.
  3. Sloan, G. R. (1992). "The Scarlet Ibis": Overview. Reference Guide to Short Fiction, 1(1), 997-998.
  4. Wang, J. (2017). A Study of Symbolism in The Scarlet Ibis. Theory and Practice in Language Studies, 7(5), 327-331.
  5. Wilson, K. M. (2013). Hurst's "The Scarlet Ibis": The tragic effects of multiple levels of oppression. Studies in Short Fiction, 50(2), 99-109.
This essay is graded:
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Expert Review
The essay delves into the intricacies of "The Scarlet Ibis" by analyzing various symbols as witnesses to the narrator's innocence in Doodle's death. While the essay provides an in-depth exploration of these symbols, it lacks consistency in its argumentation and structure. The interpretation of Doodle's favorite lie and its symbolism is insightful, connecting it to Doodle's heart condition and demise. Similarly, the analysis of the nightshade bush and its potential role in Doodle's death is well-founded. The discussion of the white house and its connection to innocence demonstrates keen observation. The explanations regarding Doodle's coffin and the color red are also thought-provoking.
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What can be improved
Introduction and Thesis: Begin with a clear and concise introduction that outlines the purpose of the essay and presents a focused thesis regarding the narrator's innocence in Doodle's death. Coherence and Argumentation: Ensure that each symbol analyzed is consistently tied back to the central argument of the narrator's innocence in Doodle's death. Emphasize how these symbols collectively build a case for the narrator's innocence. Structured Analysis: Organize the essay with clear topic sentences for each section, introducing the symbol and its significance before delving into its symbolism and connection to the narrator's innocence. Thematic Linkage: Establish stronger connections between each symbol's analysis and its contribution to the overall theme of innocence and Doodle's death. Conclusion: Summarize the main findings of each symbol's analysis and restate the thesis, emphasizing the collective evidence supporting the narrator's innocence in Doodle's death.
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