Mystery and Meaning

A WebQuest for English
Journey of the Self
"The Scarlet Ibis" by James Hurst

Introduction | Task | Process | Enrichment | Read It | What you will do | Credits


Authors have an uncanny way of presenting information to the reader that is often hidden behind rich language and literary devices.  In discovering the "mysteries" of the literature, readers gain insights into human experiences and develop a broader understanding of one's self.  James Hurst, author of "The Scarlet Ibis," is one who provides "mystery and meaning" through his short story.  You will use the web to find information that will help you complete this assignment.  What mysteries will you uncover and how will those mysteries find meaning in your life?

The Task

You're ready to begin!  Have fun on your search for the answers to this mystery:

  • define and identify a symbol;
  • create and explain an original symbol;
  • define a scarlet ibis;
  • explain the significance of environment for the scarlet ibis.
Click on the following to retrieve your worksheet.  Save the worksheet to disk and fill it in and then PRINT it when it is completed.

Don't forget to keep all of the answers to your quest for meaning on your worksheet.

The Process

Directions:  Make sure you read all of the directions before you begin the journey.  You will have a set of three activities to complete.  Follow the assigned order of the activities (so please don't jump around as you complete the assignment).

Activity #1

  • What is a symbol?  Instead of going to the textbook for the answer, link to the following site to find the definition of a symbol:
Literary Terms

Now that you understand what a symbol is, you are ready to move on to activity #2.  Sit back and enjoy as you glance at a variety of symbols and their meanings.

Activity #2

  • Lots of students dislike or fear literature, because they think they "don't get" the idea of symbolism.  This next site contains examples explaining some traditional symbols in our culture. 
    • This next site gives you a sampling of categories that provide a wide range of symbols.  Click on at least five letters of the alphabet and record your five findings on your worksheet.
    • The next site gives the meanings of flowers and their symbolism from poetry, history and past writings.  Interested?  Click here to learn more.
    Art Symbols Dictionary: Flowers and Plants

Activity #3

  • You're going to read a story about a scarlet ibis, and you have probably guessed that it will involve some symbolism.  Wouldn't you agree that it would help to understand the story if you knew what a scarlet ibis was?  The following site has a picture of the scarlet ibis.
  • What's so special about the scarlet ibis?  Click on this site and be ready to answer some questions.
  • Record your answers to the following questions on your worksheet:
    • 1)  What is a scarlet ibis?  Describe in detail.
      2)  Describe the environment in which the scarlet ibis lives. 
      3)  How is environment important to the bird's survival? 

Before you begin reading the short story, let's see if you really understand symbolism!


Let's see if you can unlock the "mystery" and find the "meaning" in the following poem:

  1. Read the poem carefully. Highlight and copy it and paste it in a Word document. Save as Ibispoem.
  2. Underline or highlight specific clues that will aid in identifying the symbol.
  3. Identify the symbol.
  4. Provide a brief explanation or justification for your choice.
  5. Submit your analysis to Ted.

      "First Lesson" by Philip Booth
Lie back daughter, let your head
be tipped back in the cup of my hand.
Gently, and I will hold you. Spread
your arms wide, lie out on the stream
and look high at the gulls. A dead-
man's float is face down. You will dive
and swim soon enough where this tidewater
ebbs to the sea. Daughter, believe
me, when you tire on the long thrash
to your island, lie up, and survive.
As you float now, where I held you
and let go, remember when fear
cramps your heart what I told you:
lie gently and wide to the light-year
stars, lie back, and the sea will hold you.
Answer the following questions: 

1.  The father is giving his daughter advice about floating.  This first swim lesson dealing with floating also has a symbolic meaning.  Not only is the father giving his daughter advice about floating, but he is also giving his daughter advice about ____________________.

2.  Provide a brief explanation for your choice. 
Excellent!  You discovered the mystery of the symbol!  Explanation is clear and concise and it supports the meaning of the symbol.
Very Good!  You are on track!  Explanation is quite good for this symbol.  Could you have examined a few more clues--literary devices, word choices?
Oops!  You identified a symbol, but your explanation doesn't quite include all the relevant details in the poem.

Read It!

Through this activity, you have discovered the richness of language and have identified literary devices, particularly the symbol, that aid in developing understanding the story.  You also gained significant information about the scarlet ibis and its environment.  Understanding symbolsim and the background of the bird will enable you to develop your own analysis of the story.  Congratulations!  You are now ready to dive into the story, "The Scarlet Ibis."
Use this Resource

What you will do

In an essay of 250 or more words discuss the importance of symbolism in James Hurst's "The Scarlet Ibis." Be sure to define symbol, the scarlet ibis, and discuss how the symbolism is important in the main idea of the story. Be sure to include direct quotes from the story to support what you say about the story and the use of symbols in the story. How is this a story of discovering self? What did you discover about yourself? Save this file as ibis.html and add link on main.html to Scarlet Ibis.

Credits & References

Designed by
Barbara Selwocki and Michelle Dunn

We would like to thank members of the Maryland Technology Academy, especially Kim Champagne and Christine Voelker, for introducing us to the world of WebQuests and teaching us how to create our own masterpiece.  Thank you!

Additional credit goes to:

Adventures in Appreciation.  Heritage Edition Revised.  Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Publishers.  New York: 1985.
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  • Graphic Organizer for "Scarlet Ibis"
  • Another activity sheet for "Scarlet Ibis."
    Last updated on August 15, 1999. Based on a template from The WebQuest Page