The Scarlet Ibis is a short story by James Hurst weaving the tragic tale of Doodle, a disabled child and his brother, the narrator. Doodle’s life has been a series of close calls; the only reason he is alive is the love and persistence – and occasional cruelty – of his brother. Brother’s only motivation is to make Doodle like other kids in order to avoid the embarrassment of having a six-year-old brother who cannot even walk, amounting to what is, in essence, a battle with his own ego.
As the story continues, Brother tries to fix the irreparable hole in his heart caused by his shame and selfishness toward Doodle. Brother is constantly reminding Doodle of his own debility, bringing to light Doodle’s unwillingness to participate in his brother’s cold-blooded attempts to point out Doodle’s mortality. When Brother makes Doodle touch the casket, he knows what to expect from Doodle. “Doodle was paralyzed, so I put him on my shoulder and carried him down the ladder, and even when we were outside in the sunlight, he clung to me, crying, ‘Don’t leave me.
Don’t leave me. ‘”(486). Doodle is utterly terrified of the casket, and his brother is aware of it. By making Doodle touch the casket, he is imprinting upon Doodle that he can never be normal, that he will always be teetering on the brink of life and death, never to be able to live up to his full potential. However cruel Brother’s actions may be, he still takes an interest in Doodle, purely for his self-satisfaction. “When Doodle was five years old, I was embarrassed at having a brother of that age who couldn’t walk, so I set out to teach him. (488) Brother teaches Doodle how to walk, but it is purely for his own conscience. Embarrassed by Doodle’s condition, he tries to fix Doodle’s many abnormalities, without considering Doodle’s own views and feelings. The only thing that Brother wanted was a sibling with which he could play with, and the arrival of Doodle shattered his hopes. As a result, he makes Doodle pay for it on many occasions, the last of which took the life of his younger brother. “For a long, long time, it seemed forever, I lay there crying, sheltering my fallen scarlet ibis from the heresy of the rain. (493). In the end, Brother finally realizes the effects his actions have on young Doodle. The emotional trauma of his brother abandoning him in the rain combined with his preexisting physical conditions came together in a perfect storm, bringing to light the final effects of Brother’s ambition-driven actions, a simple childhood act of spite with devastating results. Throughout the story, Brother tries to show both sides of the double-edged sword that is pride. I did not know then that pride is a wonderful, terrible thing, a seed that bears two vines, life and death. ”(488) Brother’s pride pushes him to give Doodle an existence away from his bed, and it is this obsession that leads to Doodle’s tragic demise. Brother’s pride did create a facsimile of real life for Doodle, but in the end, it crumbled, brought to its knees by pride and selfishness. Brother did love Doodle, but his ego overshadowed the fact the he was just trying to protect Doodle from a world that doesn’t tolerate those that are different.
Doodle dies sad and broken, abandoned by the one person he looked up to. Brother proves himself no better than Doodle, showing himself to be as morally destitute as Doodle is physically incapable. In the end, however, Brother realizes that Doodle could not have led the life he left without his big brother leading the way for him. Brother may have acted cruelly toward his brother, but in the end, he realizes that some things cannot be changed, no matter the amount of love and persistence.
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