The scarlet ibis is a carefully chosen symbol. To understand why, it helps to know a little about the bird. A native of the South American tropics, the scarlet ibis is vivid red. Its color derives from the shrimps that form the bulk of its diet; if there are no shrimps, it loses its color. It needs a particular habitat in order to thrive as it only feeds in shallow waters along the coast, in mud flats and lagoons. The scarlet ibis is an endangered species which has not bred successfully in its natural habitat since the 1960s. Reasons for this include development of coastal areas, water pollution, and depletion of food sources. Scarlet ibises are colonial nesters, meaning that they nest in large flocks; they rely on the presence of other birds of their own species. The ibis in "The Scarlet Ibis" is symbolically linked with Doodle from the beginning of the plot, as the memory of the ibis's arrival triggers in Brother's mind the memory of Doodle, and Doodle immediately feels a bond with the bird. Like the ibis, Doodle is a being alone, different, singled out, with no flock, out of his natural environment. Like the ibis, he does not thrive in the environment in which he finds himself: he is delicate, sickly, and fragile. But while the ibis's beauty is obvious to Doodle, Doodle's beauty of spirit is hidden inside an unattractive exterior; thus, the bird externalizes Doodle's inner nature. Doodle is associated with winged and divine beings, just as the bird is literally a winged creature. Both boy and bird are characterized by sacred imagery. It could be argued that both are symbolically linked with Christ. One example of the symbol in the story that represents two different emotions at the same time would be the Scarlet Ibis itself. The reader sees this when thebird dies and, “a white veil comes over the eyes and…..even death does not mark it grace, for it lay on the earth like a broken vase of red flowers, and the family stands around it, awed by its...
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