Monday, August 23, 2010

Reader's Diary #642- James Hurst: The Scarlet Ibis

Last week over at Shelf Love, Teresa lamented falling out of love with the Short Story. Hoping to reclaim her old feelings, she determined that her biggest issue was how to approach the form and came up with a bunch of solutions. If it's a problem you have or have had in the past, you should check out her post.

That post is also where I first heard of this week's short story, James Hurst's "The Scarlet Ibis" (though I hear it's often anthologized).

For those of you that haven't read it, it's a story about two brothers (the narrator, whose name is unknown, and William, who quickly gets nicknamed "Doodle" as he is known for the rest of the story.) Doodle is a sickly child, not expected to live long, and unable to walk. The older brother is ashamed at Doodle's problems and in retrospect, admits that he treated him cruelly. However, there turns out to be a pay off to the brothers taunts: Doodle learns to walk. Shortly after the brother puts Doodle on a regimen that will make him "normal" before they start school. At this point a rare scarlet ibis appears, having flown off course. Soon after the ibis dies. The story continues from there.

I imagine this would be a great teaching piece. There's so much to discuss. At any point does it seem that the ends has justified the means? Do you feel that way at the end? What is the significance of the colour red? Etc.

For the thought provocation, I enjoyed the story. However, I can't help but feel the very last line was too heavy handed. Cradling the blood-soaked Doodle in his arms, his brother remarks, "For a long time, it seemed forever, I lay there crying, sheltering my fallen scarlet ibis." By that point, even the most ignorant of readers should have drawn the parallel between Doodle and the ibis and I didn't think Hurst's comment was necessary. Otherwise it's okay.

(Did you write a post for Short Story Monday? If so, please leave a link in the comments below.)


Teddy Rose said...

I have to take a look at it. That is quite heavy handed.

I read a classic this week: The Queen of Spades by Alexander Pushkin

Anonymous said...

I love the word ibis for some reason.

Anyway, that does sound heavy-handed, but I have to admit that sometimes I just don't get symbolism and parallels unless I'm held by the hand.

I read a story by Roddy Doyle this week.

Teresa said...

Thanks for the link! I haven't read any short stories this week, but I am eying a couple of my collections.

As it happens, I don't think I have read this story since high school, but I do remember that it was incredibly moving at the time. Back then, symbolism was new to me, so the heavy-handedness probably worked in its favor. I also had a higher tolerance for sentimentality, which also worked in this story's favor (and would probably work against it now, I'm sad to say).

Barbara Bruederlin said...

I'll have to read that, if just to figure out what an ibis is. Some kind of bird?

Bybee said...

I read this story and also heard it read on a tape by a male author with a strong Southern accent. Everytime he said "Doodle", I felt like laughing. The story is a useful tool for teaching symbolism otherwise it would be long forgotten.