While "The Scarlet Ibis" is a tragic story about a small boy's untimely death, it is not without irony. The narrator, whom Doodle calls "Brother," recalls his childhood with a combination of nostalgia and self-loathing, creating a tone ideal for recognizing verbal irony. Author James Hurst also establishes situational irony by examining Brother's dual capacities for kindness and cruelty.
What's in a Name?
When Doodle is born, his doctors believe he will die. Nevertheless, his parents name him "William Armstrong," a name that Brother recognizes as highly inappropriate for a physically weak, differently-abled child. He recognizes the verbal irony, or opposite meaning, of the name, as "William" means "will/protection" whereas "Armstrong" implies physical strength. Little Doodle, incapable of walking most of his life and all too willing to bow to his brother's will, can neither protect himself nor resist Brother's demands.
The Cruelest Irony
Hurst peppers his story with harbingers of death, including the demise of the titular scarlet ibis. Yet Brother feels confident running ahead of Doodle in a storm. Though he does so out of childish cruelty, he stops to wait for Doodle to catch up to him. Instead, in a cruel instance of situational irony, his expectations are reversed: Brother finds Doodle seated on the ground, crumpled, bloody and dead. Brother cradles Doodle, but his protective impulse is as impotent as it is belated.