The Scarlet Ibis
|"The Scarlet Ibis"|
|Genre(s)||Tragedy, Short story|
|Published in||The Atlantic Monthly|
|Publication date||July 1960|
"The Scarlet Ibis" is a short story written by novelist James Hurst. It was first published in The Atlantic Monthly in July 1960 and won the "Atlantic First" award. It has been frequently republished in other collections.
The narrator, who is not named but simply called "Brother", recounts the life of his younger brother, William Armstrong, whom his brother named "Doodle." From then on, he was referred to as Doodle. Doodle is born a sickly child who is not expected to live (a small coffin is even made in the case of his death). His brother wanted someone who could run and jump and play with him but resents having the weak and fragile Doodle instead.
Eventually, at the age of six, Doodle learns to walk with help from Brother. Encouraged by this, the brother decides to teach Doodle how to run, climb vines, swim, and even fight to prepare Doodle for school. However, almost a year after the plan was made, Doodle was far from accomplishing the goals by the nearing deadline.
One day, a big red bird appears in their garden, looking sick and tired. The boys' father identifies it as a Scarlet Ibis, a tropical bird that was blown off course by a recent storm. When the bird dies, Doodle, pitying the creature, buries it. Afterwards, the boys go to nearby Horsehead Landing to continue Doodle's "training". On their way back to the house, Brother has Doodle practice rowing. A sudden rainstorm comes, and when they reach the riverbank, Doodle is tired and frightened. Brother, angry and frustrated that Doodle could not finish his training before school starts, runs ahead of Doodle, leaving the frightened boy behind. When Brother does not see Doodle, Brother returns for Doodle, only to find Doodle, lifeless, lying on the ground with blood flowing out of his mouth, staining his throat and shirt red. Doodle died like the Scarlet Ibis: red and far away from home.
The story has been described as "rich in symbolism." The Scarlet Ibis is the main symbol in the story, as is the color red and the ibis in comparison to "Doodle" as fragile yet majestic. The storm is often compared to Doodle's brother because the brother pushed Doodle way too hard just like the storm did with the scarlet ibis. The story also examines the ambiguous nature of pride: "I did not know then that pride was a wonderful, terrible thing, a seed that bears two vines, life and death."
The story is being developed into an opera by composer Stefan Weisman with librettist David Cote. The opera will be co-produced by New York City's Beth Morrison Projects and HERE Arts Center in association with American Opera Projects, and it will premiere in the PROTOTYPE Opera Festival in January 2015.
James Hurst was born January 1, 1922, near Jacksonville, North Carolina. He attended Booker T. Washington High School in Atlanta, Georgia and studied chemical engineering at North Carolina State College. However, following military service in World War II, he decided to be an opera singer and studied at the Juilliard School of Music in New York and in Italy. In 1951, Hurst abandoned his musical career and became a banker in New York for the next thirty-four years. He wrote plays and short stories in his spare time. "The Scarlet Ibis" was his only piece that gained widespread recognition. James Hurst died in Jacksonville, North Carolina on Oct. 24. 2013, at the age of 91. Obituary link: 
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