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The Scarlet Ibis Summary
Our narrator, a grown man, tells us about his memories of Doodle, his younger brother. We jump into the past as the narrator as the narrator begins his story about his brother. The narrator is six years old when Doodle is born. Doodle is born sickly, and everyone but Aunt Nicey thinks he will die. Daddy even buys Doodle a coffin. When Doodle has lived for two months, Mama and Daddy name him William Armstrong. The narrator doesn't think the name suits him. The narrator happens to be athletic and actively enjoys the area around his rural home, which isn't far from the ocean. He wishes he had a brother to share it with. Mama tells him Doodle will never be able to run and play like he does. She tearfully suggests that Doodle might not have high brain function either. Ashamed of having a brother like that, the narrator decides to kill the baby by "smothering him with a pillow" (1.5). When Doodle smiles at him he realizes Doodle is smart, and abandons the plan. When Doodle is two years old he learns to crawl, even though the doctor thinks that his heart condition will keep him from doing even that. He crawls only backwards, reminding the narrator of a doodle-bug . So, the narrator calls his brother Doodle. Doodle soon learns to talk, and begins to show interest in the narrator. Since he can't walk, Brother has to pull Doodle around in a cart. At first the narrator resists Doodle, but then realizes that Doodle is his brother and that he's stuck with him. He takes Doodle to Old Woman Swamp, an extremely beautiful place. Doodle loves it and the two of them spend lots of time there enjoying nature. Sometimes the narrator is mean to Doodle. Once he takes him to the barn loft and shows him the coffin that was made for him when he was a baby. He makes Doodle touch it under the threat of leaving him there. Even after they leave the loft, Doodle begs his brother, who he calls Brother, never to abandon him. Doodle is five and he still can't walk. This embarrasses Brother, so he sets out to secretly teach him. Doodle does learn to walk, and on his sixth birthday he shows the rest of the family. Mama and Daddy are very proud. Brother feels bad because he thinks he taught Doodle to walk only out of shame, not because he cares about Doodle. Still, the boys have lots of fun together after that, roaming the area. Doodle begins to tell wonderful stories. Mama and Daddy decide Doodle will be ready to go to school in less than a year, near his seventh birthday. Brother decides to teach him "to run, to swim, to climb trees, and to fight" (4.1). Doodle is sick most of the winter, and Brother is busy with school. They don't make much headway. That summer, the summer of 1918, Brother decides to teach Doodle to be athletic like he is. Things go well at first, but as Brother presses him harder, Doodle shows signs of weakness and strain. When school is only a few days away, Doodle hasn't learned all the things Brother wants him to. At lunch on the Saturday before school starts, they find a scarlet ibis, a tropical bird not native to the area, in a tree in their yard. The ibis dies before their eyes and falls from the tree. Doodle buries it, and seems sad. After lunch Brother takes Doodle to Horsehead Landing and makes Doodle row the rowboat, even though he's exhausted. A storm is approaching. Doodle and Brother are running to get home and out of the rain. Angry and frustrated that Doodle isn't ready for school, Brother runs ahead of him. When his anger calms, he goes back to find Doodle. He finds him curled up under a bush with his head on his knees. Brother touches him and see that he's been "bleeding from the mouth" (4.48). There is blood all over his neck and shirt. He is dead. Brother panics and calls Doodle's name. With tears in his eyes he sees that Doodle looks very much like the scarlet ibis. Brother, crying, puts his body over Doodle's and tries to protect him from the rain.
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The Scarlet Ibis by James Hurst
“The Scarlet Ibis” is a touching story, full of symbolism and meaning. It is told through the narrator’s eyes, as he looks back on his childhood, and the remarkable life of his younger brother, Doodle. It is a story of two brothers, and how the pride of one person can be an incredible and destructive force.
Student Activities for The Scarlet Ibis
Essential Questions for “The Scarlet Ibis”
- In what ways do we allow our feelings to affect others?
- Have you ever been ashamed of one of your family members? Is it okay to feel that way?
- What are some attributes that can be positive and negative in a person, and why?
“The Scarlet Ibis” Summary
In the story, the narrator recalls the life of his remarkable brother, Doodle. Set in the South in the early 1900s, a young boy named William Armstrong is born. From the beginning, the doctors did not believe he would survive; he suffered from a small heart, among other birth defects, leaving him physically weak. However, when he smiled at his brother, and eventually learned to crawl, the family was given hope that "Doodle" might be okay.
As Doodle got older, he still could not walk, so his older brother pulled him around in a little cart. At times, the narrator was cruel to Doodle, as he was ashamed and embarrassed to have a little brother who was different. Although, the narrator becomes fond of his brother, he is still embarrassed Doodle was crippled so he decided to teach him to walk. After months of practice, Doodle and his brother demonstrated his new ability to his parents who were overjoyed. From that day forward the narrator works Doodle doggedly to teach him more strenuous activities such as swimming, running, fighting, and climbing. Throughout this process the narrator states his pride as being the motivator; it was his pride that would not let Doodle go to school being different. As the summer neared its end, Doodle had only made a small amount of progress, but his brother's pride was too great to let him concede.
One afternoon the family heard a strange noise in the yard, and Doodle rushed outside to find a rare scarlet ibis perched in the bleeding tree, having been blown off course by a storm. The bird eventually fell from the tree and died. For some reason, Doodle had a profound connection with the bird, and was intent on burying it. The next day, the boys went for their daily exercise lessons, but Doodle was too weak to practice. As they boys headed home in the midst of another storm, Doodle fell behind and called out for his brother not to leave him. Stung by his pride and selfishness, the narrator ran faster, leaving Doodle to catch up. After a moment he turned back, only to find Doodle beside a bush, dead, bloody, and in a position that resembled the fallen scarlet ibis.
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The Scarlet Ibis
28 pages • 56 minutes read
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Summary and Study Guide
Summary: “the scarlet ibis”.
First published in The Atlantic in 1960, James Hurst’s “The Scarlet Ibis” won the magazine’s “Atlantic First” award. Frequently included in literature anthologies, Hurst’s tragic short story explores themes of pride, shame, and death within the context of coming of age.
This guide refers to the 1960 version that appeared in The Atlantic as well as the brief biographical information included in that original publication.
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Content Warning: The source text uses outdated, offensive terms to describe people with disabilities. This study guide reproduces such terms only in direct quotes of the source material.
The story begins with the unnamed narrator recalling a moment in the past between summer and autumn when a scarlet ibis landed in a bleeding tree. The narrator’s thoughts bring back the scents, sights, and sounds of the previous days and cause him to remember his younger brother, whom he nicknamed “Doodle.” The story takes place between 1911 and 1918 in rural North Carolina, during which time World War I occurred.
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Born when the narrator is six, Doodle has “a tiny body which was red and shriveled like an old man’s” (48). Mama and Daddy believe the sickly infant will die, and only Aunt Nicey has hope for the boy. Daddy orders the construction of a small coffin, but Doodle survives. After three months, the parents finally name him William Armstrong.
The narrator, an active boy, laments Doodle’s inability to run and explore the world. Doctors believe that Doodle “was not all there” (49), has a weak heart, and will probably lie on a rubber mat in the front bedroom for his entire life. Dismayed by this knowledge, the narrator decides to suffocate his little brother but stops when Doodle smiles at him, which the narrator takes as a sign of Doodle’s intelligence.
Although experiencing physical obstacles, Doodle learns to crawl and talk. The narrator dubs him “Doodle” because the little boy’s backward crawling reminds him of a doodlebug. The narrator rationalizes the nickname as a kindness because “nobody expects much from someone called Doodle” (49).
As Doodle does not walk, Daddy builds a go-cart and tasks the narrator with pulling his brother around the surrounding town and swamp. While the narrator considers Doodle a burden due to his fragility, the younger brother shows an appreciation for and sensitivity to the beauty of the natural world. The brothers spend their days at Old Woman Swamp gathering flowers and weaving them into ornaments. One day, admitting that inside he possesses “a knot of cruelty borne by the streams of love” (49), the narrator shows Doodle his coffin and forces him to touch it. Doodle, frightened of the casket, begs his brother not to leave him.
When Doodle reaches five years of age, the narrator, ashamed of his brother’s disability, decides to teach Doodle to walk. For the entire summer, the narrator aids his brother in standing and then walking, viewing Doodle’s potential success as a source of personal pride. On Doodle’s sixth birthday, the brothers show Doodle’s newfound ability to their ecstatic family. When Doodle reveals that his older brother taught him to stand and walk, the narrator bursts into tears, realizing that his good deed was due to his shame at “having a crippled brother” (50) and not for Doodle’s benefit.
After the discovery of Doodle’s walking, the go-cart is put away in the barn loft with the coffin. The narrator and Doodle continue to explore their world and consider their future. Doodle, a compelling storyteller, devises tales of people with wings and imagines that when he and the narrator are grown up, they will live beside the stream and marry their parents. The narrator, while admitting the unrealistic aspects of Doodle’s plan, admires Doodle’s stories, which he calls “beautiful and serene” (51).
Not content with training Doodle to walk, the narrator decides to teach his brother other skills: swimming, tree climbing, fighting, and running. Although events in the larger world—including the Great War, blighted crops, and a hurricane—become household topics of conversation, the narrator continually focuses on his plan to make Doodle like other boys. Yet, after a year of training, Doodle makes little headway.
One day before the start of school, the family hears “a strange croaking noise” (52) coming from the bleeding tree in their yard. The bird perched in the tree, a scarlet ibis, appears worn out and ill and eventually falls to the ground dead. Its death, however, does not spoil its grace and beauty. While the rest of the family members go back to their lunch, Doodle digs a grave for the bird and performs a solemn ceremony.
Later that day, the narrator and Doodle row out into the marsh. Despite a gathering storm, the narrator forces Doodle to row back against the current. The younger brother becomes exhausted and collapses when they reach the shore. The narrator, disheartened by Doodle’s failure to acquire the skills that would make him a physically active boy, runs home in the rain, leaving Doodle behind. Doodle calls out to him, begging the narrator not to leave him.
Eventually, the narrator decides to return to Doodle, but it is too late. He finds Doodle “bleeding from the mouth […] his neck and the front of his shirt a brilliant red” (53). In realizing that Doodle is dead, the narrator begins to cry and holds the body of his brother, protecting his “fallen scarlet ibis” (53) from the storm.
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In rural North Carolina, the unnamed narrator (who is referred to as “ Brother ”) describes the season in which the scarlet ibis landed in the tree in his family’s front yard, when summer was finished but autumn had not yet begun. He remarks that he’s surprised the memory is so clear to him, as is his memory of his brother, Doodle .
Brother flashes back to when Doodle was born. Brother is six at the time and is immediately disappointed by Doodle. Doodle is born with a large head and tiny body, and his doctor doesn’t expect him to live more than a few days, though Brother’s Aunt Nicey believes that he will. Doodle’s parents have a small coffin built for him, but he survives infancy and they decide to name him William Armstrong.
Brother confesses how he had wanted a brother with whom he could run and play, but his parents tell him that Doodle would never be able to do those things. When he is two years old, Doodle starts to crawl, at which point Brother decides to call him Doodle, because he crawls backwards like a doodlebug.
Doodle’s father builds him a go-cart so that Brother can take him out to play. Even though Doodle has many restrictions on what he can do, Brother essentially ignores them. Brother takes Doodle to Old Woman Swamp, where they enjoy each other’s company, but Brother is also sometimes mean to Doodle. Brother brings Doodle up to the barn loft to show him the coffin his parents had made for him, and won’t let him leave until he touches it. Doodle does so, screams in terror, and as Brother carries him down the ladder Doodle begs his brother not to leave him.
When Doodle is five years old, Brother decides to teach Doodle how to walk because he is ashamed of having a brother of that age who cannot. Although Doodle initially doesn’t understand why he needs to learn, Brother attempts to teach him every day that summer. Doodle repeatedly falls to the ground, unable to stand, but after much perseverance, Doodle learns to walk. They decide to show their parents and Aunt Nicey, who are overjoyed.
Brother, now believing that he can teach Doodle to do anything, sets out to begin a development program for Doodle, teaching him to run, swim, climb trees, and fight. They work through the spring and summer, and Doodle makes some progress, but Brother worries that he still will not be able to keep up with the other boys in school. After a particularly strenuous day, Doodle collapses and begins to cry.
A few days before school begins, the family notices a scarlet ibis in a tree in their yard. Their bird book reveals that the ibis is not native to the area and must have been carried there by a storm . Suddenly, the ibis tries to fly, but its wings are uncoordinated and it crashes to the ground, dying. Doodle is very moved by the death of the ibis and solemnly buries it.
After burying the ibis, the two boys go outside to practice swimming, but Doodle is too tried to swim, so Brother makes him practice rowing instead. Soon, a storm seems to be approaching, and Doodle is too tired to carry on so the boys start to return to their house. It begins to rain heavily, at which point Brother, frustrated with Doodle’s failure, starts to run as fast as he can away from Doodle, who cannot keep up. After a while Brother stops and waits for Doodle, but Doodle does not appear. Brother turns back, only to find Doodle limp on the ground and bleeding from the mouth. The story ends with the image of Brother shielding Doodle’s dead body from the rain like his own “fallen scarlet ibis.”
The Scarlet Ibis
by James Hurst
- The Scarlet Ibis Summary
In " The Scarlet Ibis ," the narrator recounts events that occured in the past. When the narrator is six, his little brother is born. He is born in a caul, meaning a membrane surrounded his head, so everyone expects him to die. However, the little brother lives, and when he is three months old, their parents give him the name William Armstrong, of which the narrator does not approve.
The narrator is extremely upset that his little brother is disabled; he had high hopes that his sibling would be able to run and jump and play with him. When his mother suggests that his little brother might not turn out to be "all there," the narrator is even more upset; however, when the baby stares right at him and smiles, the narrator knows that he is "all there" after all.
When the baby is two years old, he learns to move around and crawl by himself. As soon as he does, they decide they need to give him a new name that fits him better; they settle on Doodle , because he only crawls backwards, just like a doodlebug. Only their Aunt Nicey does not think this name is fitting; she believes that he should be treated with more respect, since caul babies might turn out to be saints.
Their father builds Doodle a go-cart to get around in, and the narrator is forced to take Doodle with him everywhere he goes. He takes him to a place they call the Old Woman Swamp, and Doodle begins to cry because it is so beautiful. From that moment on they go down to the swamp often and adorn themselves in wildflower crowns and necklaces. At other times, though, the narrator is mean to Doodle; most notably, he takes Doodle to see the coffin that was made for him when everyone thought he was going to die, now sitting forgotten in the barn. He forces Doodle to touch it, and threatens to leave him alone with it if he does not.
When Doodle turns five, the narrator is embarassed by having a brother who cannot walk, so he decides to teach him. It takes a lot of practicing to overcome Doodle's disability, but they press on, because the narrator's pride will not allow him to stop. Finally Doodle stands up on his own, and eventually he can take a few steps by himself. They reveal their success to everyone on Doodle's sixth birthday, and everyone is happy with the narrator for teaching him; the narrator cries, though, because he knows he did it more for himself than for Doodle.
Eventually the narrator believes that he can teach Doodle to do anything, so he decides to teach him to run, swim, climb trees, and fight, so that the following year he can start school on the same level as all the other children. They do not get much practice in that winter, but when spring comes they begin to work hard. However, that summer is terrible, and the family loses a lot of crops. School comes up fast, so the brothers redouble their efforts so that Doodle will be prepared. Doodle, however, is being pushed beyond his limits.
A storm is on the horizon one day, and while they sit and eat lunch they spot a huge red bird in a nearby tree. When they go outside it flies down to the ground and dies at their feet, apparently hurt and exhausted from being thrown off course by the storm. Doodle is especially sympathetic, and gives the bird a proper burial.
After they finish eating the brothers head down to the creek to practice rowing. Doodle is clearly not up for this, but the narrator pushes him anyway. The storm approaches while they row, and when they get back to the bank Doodle is so exhausted and frightened that he collapses into the sand. The narrator helps him up and they attempt to race the storm back home, but Doodle's body is done in and he collapses again. He calls out for the narrator not to leave him, but the narrator has one of his strokes of maliciousness and runs ahead.
The narrator finds his senses and waits for Doodle to catch up, but he never does. He retraces his steps, only to find his little brother lying in the sand, covered in blood from his mouth, dead just like the scarlet ibis. The narrator is devastated, and lies protectively over Doodle's body, crying, to shelter it from the rain.
The Scarlet Ibis Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for The Scarlet Ibis is a great resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
The scarlet ibis
The author uses weather as a form of foreshadowing. Storms and natural occurrences, foreshadow from the very beginning what will happen at the end. The narrator and Doodle face a huge obstacle in the way of their goal when they experience a...
Which of the following quotes from the text best reflects how the author uses nature to enhance the dark tone of the story? Answer choices for the above question A. “The last graveyard flowers were blooming, and their smell drifted across the cotton fiel
I'm sorry, you need to place your answer choices in the "details" box. Please repost your question.
The surprise was Doodle walking across the room to the table on his birthday.
At breakfast on our chosen day, when Mama, Daddy, and Aunt Nicey were in the dining room, I brought Doodle to the door in the gocart just as usual and had them turn...
Study Guide for The Scarlet Ibis
The Scarlet Ibis study guide contains a biography of James Hurst, literature essays, quiz questions, major themes, characters, and a full summary and analysis.
- About The Scarlet Ibis
- Character List
Essays for The Scarlet Ibis
The Scarlet Ibis essays are academic essays for citation. These papers were written primarily by students and provide critical analysis of The Scarlet Ibis by James Hurst.
- Brotherly Injury: The Scarlet Ibis
- Character Comparison Essay: "The Scarlet Ibis" and "Thank You Ma'am"
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The Scarlet Ibis Summary
The short story "The Scarlet Ibis" by James Hurst takes place from around 1913 to 1918 in a small town in the south. The narrator, who begins the story at age six, focuses on his brother, whom the family calls Doodle. Doodle was born all shriveled up and everyone thought he would die. They didn't even want to name him, but at three month of age, when he was still alive, they finally called him William Armstrong. His mother feared that even if William continued to survive, he would never be fully functional.
The narrator didn't want to have an invalid brother, so he thought about taking a pillow and smothering him. However, at that moment, his brother smiled at him, and he decided there was still hope. By age two his brother started to crawl, but he often went backwards because it was easier, so his brother began calling him Doodle since he moved like a doodlebug, in reverse. Although he had learned to crawl, he showed no signs of walking, so his brother built a go-cart to push him around in. The doctor said they had to be careful with Doodle, treat him gently, make sure he was never too hot, too cold, too excited, or too tired.
The narrator would often take his brother to the swamp, so they could admire all the beautiful flowers. One day he took him to the barn and showed Doodle the small casket they had made for him when they thought he was going to die. He wanted Doodle to touch it, but he was afraid. When he still couldn't walk by age five, the narrator was so embarrassed that he decided to teach him. After a year of practice, he finally succeeded. They decided to reveal the new feat to the family on Doodle's sixth birthday. Doodle walked slowly across the room to the wonderment of the family. Unfortunately, the narrator was still ashamed to have a crippled brother.
During the winter Doodle suffered from a series of colds while his brother attended school. That summer Doodle seemed even more ill, not sleeping well. One day while the family was eating they noticed a bright red bird outside the window. Suddenly, it fell from the tree onto the ground; it had died. They looked in their bird book and discovered it was a scarlet ibis. Doodle wanted to bury it, so he dug a hole and put it in. Aunt Nicey thought dead birds signified bad luck.
The narrator then took Doodle off to woods because they wanted to keep making Doodle stronger so that he would be ready when school started. It was clear from their efforts that Doodle still wasn't ready. They heard a storm coming in, so the narrator began to run home. Doodle tried to follow him, but he couldn't keep up; he kept screaming for his brother not to leave him behind. The narrator heard but did not slow down. Finally, he stopped to wait for Doodle. When he didn't see him, he went in search of him.
He located Doodle huddled beneath a red nightshade bush beside the road. When he tried to lift him, his body flopped down onto the earth. He noticed blood on the front of Doodle's shirt. His brother cried and called his name, trying to shelter his little brother from the rain.
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The Scarlet Ibis | Summary and Analysis
Summary for the scarlet ibis by james hurst.
One of the most widely read short stories by James Hurst, “The Scarlet Ibis” was first published in the July edition of The Atlantic Monthly in 1960. Rich in symbolism, it revolves around the human will and determination that when transformed into unmitigated pride is capable of destroying innocent lives. Every human has a boundary of endurance and overachieving it will lead to nothing but failure. This is a story of two brothers where the younger one named Doodle suffers from an unfavorable condition since birth and his elder brother despises him for his inability to participate in everyday events. A tale of pride and death, it chronicles the elder brother’s will to bestow Doodle an ‘abled’ life by working hard with him to overcome his weaknesses that in truth hide his evil pride obstructing his association with a brother with a disability.
James Hurst was a 20th-century American writer who wrote plays and short stories while employed at a bank in New York City.
The Scarlet Ibis | Summary
The story begins in the present as the narrator looks out of his house and recalls his brother Doodle, originally named William Armstrong, followed by a flashback of his birth and diagnosis of a terminating condition and their parent’s preparation of a coffin for him. But somehow Doodle manages to live. The narrator who is Doodle’s elder brother dislikes the unavailability of his younger brother as a company to all his adrenaline rush activities. Sinister thoughts of smothering his brother to death fail to realize when he observes Doodle smiling back at him one day. He then resolves to put in efforts to enable Doodle to walk, run, jump and swim like all the other kids of his age in the hope to prove to himself the infallibility of his determination and opinion. Though Doodle is able to crawl and move with assistance, straining too much could lead to fatality. The father builds a go-cart for Doodle and asks the narrator to take his brother along and it is during these walks that the narrator trains his younger sibling to walk. Close to his sixth birthday, Doodle is able to walk which drives the narrator to move onto the next level of accomplishment i.e. fast-paced movements such as running. But the progress begins to deteriorate.
One day a rare red bird known as the scarlet ibis marks its territory over the bleeding tree in the backyard of the house and eventually falls to death as a consequence of covering a long distance due to the storm, out of its natural habitat. The pitiful death agonizes Doodle who buries it in the garden. Further, the brothers reach Horsehead Landing to proceed with their training but the sudden change in weather accompanying rain storms frightens Doodle who is already tired and gives up his rowing practice. Annoyed, the narrator hurries back to the house at great speed, abandoning his helpless brother in the rain. After a few moments of Doodle’s disappearance, the narrator runs back only to find his brother smeared in blood and dead. The story ends with the narrator lamenting his brother’s death as a realization of his pride’s overarching goal that involuntarily killing his brother.
The Scarlet Ibis | Analysis
Hurst employs a first-person narrator for his evocative story to retrospectively look at the bygone days when Doodle, the narrator’s younger brother was alive. A series of flashbacks shift the timeline from the present to the past but without any alteration in the mood which stagnates at gloominess and mourning with a melancholic yet occasionally humoristic tone. The story is set in reverse mode as the events move back from the mid-20th century to the ending years of World War I. The setting can also be assumed to be in one of the southern states of America, arguably North Carolina due to the author’s belongingness as well as the narrator’s father’s democratic inclination and allusion to the American President Woodrow Wilson. This puts the story contextually amidst the politically fragmented world occupied by battles. However, it does not influence the plot because the narrator is fighting his own battle— a war with his conscience.
The birth of Doodle introduces a set of challenges for the narrator and his family, towering of all is the acceptance of his disability. Religiously, he is considered a special child but his anatomical limitations cannot be denied—
“He seemed all head, with a tiny body which was red and shriveled like an old man’s. Everybody thought he was going to die everybody except Aunt Nicey, who had delivered him. She said he would live because he was born in a caul, and cauls were made from Jesus’ nightgown.”
This makes him a disappointment to the narrator who desires to have company to participate in various physical sports adventures. Even though Doodle defeats death during his infancy, his life would never allow him to be like the rest of his peers, a fact that the narrator has a hard time swallowing due to his excessive pride. He believes in his own ability to ‘correct’ his brother and make him fit which is a transformation he undergoes after bearing sinister thoughts of killing him.
The time the brothers spend together at the Old Woman Swamps contributes to Doodle’s progress in his ability to walk and the narrator’s unrealized developing affection for his brother. Like a paradise, the duo is away from the corrupt and judging forces of the world in the lap of purity. Nonetheless, the narrator also admits the streak of the cruelty inherent in humans which compels him at times to be mean and unjust to his brother. Doodle becomes a mission for his elder brother, something the latter is to succeed in because he wishes to feel proud. The efforts put in to treat Doodle are not out of love but self-recognition and glory.
However, Doodle never finds out about the true intentions of his brother, or maybe the author opts not to reveal it even if he does know because the young child might desire to continue living in his fantasy of his brother protecting him like the peacock of his dreams which spreads its magnificent tail like a “losing go-to-sleep flower, burying him in the gloriously iridescent, rustling vortex.” There is a possibility that Doodle chooses to live in denial of his brother’s selfishness which comes to light when the latter leaves him helpless in the rain begging for assistance. As a result, he dies and his death poses doubt regarding who actually killed him? Is it the narrator and his overbearing training sessions or Doodle himself for allowing his brother to exert pressure on him? Certainly, it cannot be the narrator alone to be blamed because Doodle too wished to surprise his parents by walking without any support. But his inability to refuse further exertion costs him his life.
The death of Doodle and the scarlet ibis mirror each other in the transcendence of their respective natural boundaries of life. In both cases, it’s the external factors that cause their death. For the bird, the unwelcoming storm becomes a medium for a tiresome journey, and for Doodle it is his brother’s constancy to work hard on his body. The bird’s death involves “uncoordinated” wings with its “long, graceful neck [that] jerked twice into an S, then straightened out…[and]its legs were crossed and its clawlike feet were delicately curved at rest.” Similarly, Doodle bleeds “from the mouth, and his neck and the front of his shirt were stained a brilliant red.” His tiny body lies “very awkwardly, with his head thrown far back, making his vermilion neck appear unusually long and slim. His little legs, bent sharply at the knees, had never before seemed so fragile, so thin.” Both couldn’t survive the atrocities of their surroundings as they were forced to do things unsuitable to them.
Like the beloved Jesus Christ who sacrificed for the sins of mankind, Doodle’s death also resembles a similar act of surrendering to the pride of his elder brother.
The Scarlet Ibis | Themes
Central to the story is the notion of death which marks its territory right from the beginning up till the end. The opening and closing of the narrative exhibit a gloomy atmosphere, lamentation, and sorrow. While death is an eternal truth looming over every living being’s life, its unnatural or rather forced occurrence to Doodle is a matter of concern. Though the young child was predicted to not live long, he managed to fight his battle with death up till the age of 7. The dual impact of witnessing the awful death of a scarlet ibis and the narrator’s pressurizing efforts on Doodle drives the child to lose morale and courage. Since the narrator attempts to tamper with Doodle’s natural state of being, the latter meets his tragic end covered in blood like the scarlet ibis which was thrown off from its natural habitat due to the storm and thus couldn’t sustain for long. Death overpowers everything and no amount of resistance can protect a human from dying.
Another subtle theme the author puts forward is regarding the life of people with disability and their struggles to cope with the challenging and competitive world. Insensitivity and ignorance are often the attitudes that such people usually receive like the narrator’s approach towards his young brother Doodle. Instead of rendering support and comfort to the child, the narrator sometimes acquires a sadistic pleasure by troubling his crippled and weak brother. Intentionally peeping inside the mahogany coffin ordered for Doodle during his infancy to meet the requirements in his event of death and coercing the innocent child to touch it is a pitiless act on the narrator’s part. He transcends all the boundaries of humanity towards the climax of the story when he leaves his tired and disheartened brother alone in the rain begging to not leave him alone and thus causing his death. The story conveys the popular notion that the weak usually lose the battle of life but not due to their own limitations. It is rather on an account of the inconsiderate and mindless acts of the self-considered superior creatures.
As a popular belief, one should avoid harboring too much pride for it will definitely pave a way for his/her doom. It often comes at the expense of someone’s life; in this case, it was Doodle who as a sacrificial lamb gave up his life to fulfill his brother’s whims and over-ambition. The narrator was well aware of his younger sibling’s deteriorating health and the near impossibility of achieving the target but his pride did not allow him to admit his defeat. He wished to prove to the world how capable he is to train Doodle and hence remove the stigma of the pathetic reputation that comes with an association with a family member with a disability. Humans are a slave to their pride which pushes them to strive for the unachievable and Doodle became his pride. He was a project, a mission that the narrator was determined to accomplish by transforming him into a “normal” human being. But he was unaware that “pride…[was] a wonderful, terrible thing, a seed that bears two vines, life, and death.” In his aim to provide a new life to Doodle, the narrator actually pushes him a step closer to death.
Nature is the all-pervasive force in the story that dominates the setting of the significant events. Whether it is the recollection of the lost brother by the narrator or the former’s site of death, nature marks its superior presence. The story however betrays the untainted, pure and serene scenery that nature is usually perceived as by displaying it as a site of collapsing manners. Doodle learns to walk in the Old Woman Swamp but also dies in the lap of nature amidst a rainstorm due to the narrator’s resentment. Also, before his death, Doodle receives a sign of his foreboding death through the unpleasant sight of a dead scarlet ibis in his backyard. Different elements of nature come together in the story such as rivers, rain, flowers, and birds to serve as a backdrop to both the happy as well as the tragic events in the lives of the characters.
The Scarlet Ibis | Characters
The elder brother but an unnamed character, he is an unaffectionate child who despises his young brother with a birth defect. His excessive pride over his image and reputation leads him to develop ugly feelings towards Doodle only to be transformed later when he observes a potential in the latter to overcome his weakness. Though it is his own selfish prospect that drives him to work hard on Doodle to charge his ability to walk and run, he somehow manages to perform a good deed. But he goes overboard with Doodle’s training, not realizing the strain he must be causing to his otherwise fragile brother. It’s Doodle’s eventual death that renders him a clear picture of his actions and a note of regret. The pride of achieving an unimaginable reality such as Doodle walking all by himself doesn’t settle there and it is his lust for more recognition that kills the innocent soul unknowingly.
Named William Armstrong by the parents, the unsuitability of the name for a weak and fragile kid like him compels the narrator to rename him Doodle due to his backward crawling. Despite suffering from a birth defect that causes his inability to partake in quotidian activities, he never complains and instead works hard to overcome his shortcomings. He never refuses the narrator for a training session even if it demands him strenuous efforts. But unbearable straining of muscles gradually takes a toll on his body as he begins to scale down the progress chart. To make matters worse, witnessing the death of a scarlet ibis frightens and tears him down, alarming him about his own fatality that has been predicted since his birth. Though he defeats death at birth, he is unable to do so in his 7th year due to his brother’s secretive and overbearing training sessions. He doesn’t want to die which is significant in his refusal to even touch the mahogany coffin his parents ordered for him during his infancy. His death is forceful, called upon and not wished by him. There were chances of his death at any stage of his life but if he defeated death once, he would have defeated it again had it not been a result of unnecessary exertion.
She is a religious and spiritual woman who delivers Doodle and stands against the doctors on their opinion of his assured death. For her, he is a special child born in caul made out of Jesus’ nightgown as biblically believed. She carries an air of superstitions and omens along with her such as situating the death of a scarlet ibis as a bad luck and foreshadowing of an unfortunate event.
They are commonplace characters and loving parents who love their sons in sickness and health. While the mother preserves an inclination towards superstitions and myths, the father is comparatively a more rational person who for instance does not observe the death of the scarlet ibis as an ill omen or foreboding of an unpleasant event.
The Scarlet Ibis | Literary Devices
“It was in the clove of seasons,’ summer was dead but autumn had not yet been born, that the ibis lit in the bleeding tree. The flower garden was stained with rotting brown magnolia petals and ironweeds grew rank amid the purple phlox. The five o’ clocks by the chimney still marked time, but the oriole nest in the elm was untenanted and rocked back and forth like an empty cradle. The last graveyard flowers were blooming, and their smell drifted across the cotton field and through every room of our house, speaking softly the names of our dead.”
“Then when the slanted rays of the sun burned orange in the tops of the pines, we drop our jewels into the stream and watch them float away toward the sea.”
“…the oriole nest in the elm was untenanted and rocked back and forth like an empty cradle .”
“He might, as long as he lived, lie on the rubber sheet in the center of the bed in the front bedroom where the white marquisette curtains billowed out in the afternoon sea breeze, rustling like palmetto fronds .”
“Trembling, he’d push himself up, turning first red, then a soft purple, and finally collapse back onto the bed like an old worn-out doll .”
“We were down in Old Woman Swamp and it was spring and the sick-sweet smell of bay flowers hung everywhere like a mournful song .”
“He collapsed onto the grass like a half-empty flour sack .”
“When he fell, I grabbed him in my arms and hugged him, our laughter pealing through the swamp like a ringing bell. ”
“Hope no longer hid in the dark palmetto thicket but perched like a cardinal in the lacy toothbrush tree , brilliantly visible.”
“Success lay at the end of summer like a pot of gold , and our campaign got off to a good start.”
“Promise hung about us like the leaves ”
“Doodle stopped eating, with a piece of bread poised ready for his mouth, his eyes popped round like two blue buttons .”
“Even death did not mar its grace, for it lay on the earth like a broken vase of red flowers , and we stood around it, awed by its exotic beauty.”
“The rain was coming, roaring through the pines, and then, like a bursting Roman candle , a gum tree ahead of us was shattered by a bolt of lightning.”
“When he crawled, he crawled backward, as if he were in reverse and couldn’t change gears” – Doodle’s movements are compared to a car’s.
“I did not know then that pride is a wonderful, terrible thing, a seed that bears two vines, life and death.”
“There is within me (and with sadness I have watched it in others) a knot of cruelty borne by the stream of love, much as our blood sometimes bears the seed of our destruction, and at times I was mean to Doodle.”
“I pulled the go-cart through the sawtooth fern, down into the green dimness where the palmetto fronds whispered by the stream. ”
“…autumn had not yet been born”
“Of course, he wasn’t a crazy crazy like old Miss Leedie, who was in love with President Wilson and wrote him a letter every day.” This is an allusion to the 28th American President Woodrow Wilson.
“And during that summer, strange names were heard through the house: Château-Thierry , Amiens , Soissons, and in her blessing at the supper table, Mama once said, “And bless the Pearsons, whose boy Joe was lost at Belleau Wood .” — The highlighted places are located in France where battles were fought near the end of the World War I.
“‘Dead birds is bad luck,’ said Aunt Nicey… ‘ Specially red dead birds !’”
“ Black clouds began to gather in the southwest, and he kept watching them, trying to pull the oars a little faster. When we reached Horsehead Landing, lightning was playing across half the sky and thunder roared out , hiding even the sound of the sea. The sun disappeared and darkness descended , almost like night.”
These images allow the readers to speculate Doodle’s young death due to commonality with the scarlet ibis in the redness of the body and the rarity of its presence. Doodle was too forced out of his comfort zone like the bird which was removed from its natural habitat due to the storm.
Owl screeching – an omen of death
Mahogany coffin – the parents have arranged a coffin for their son Doodle’s anticipated death in his infancy but he managed to surpass the threat. However, the narrator’s evil ploy to convey Doodle the same and even insist he touch it symbolizes the young boy’s close association with death.
Storm- coming in of unforeseen trouble and hence destruction
Scarlet- the bright red texture connotes passion and death which is observed in the blood-stained clothes of Doodle and the glowing red feathers of the scarlet ibis that fell down from the bleeding tree.
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