What does the narrator think about himself and Doodle in "The Scarlet Ibis" by James Hurst?

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carol-davis | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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"The Scarlet Ibis” by James Hurst details an episode in the life of the narrator: the adult Brother.  As the older brother looks back at Doodle’s last summer, his maturity enables him to recognize his lack of empathy for his younger, handicapped brother. 

The narrator as a 13 year old boy was motivated by his disdain for having a disable brother.  It embarrassed him, and he was going to try to fix it.

Do you want to be different from everybody else when you start school?’

‘Does it make any difference?’
‘It certainly does.’

Brother’s coaching of Doodle elicits one motif of the story:  pushing others too hard to fit in can end in tragedy. The reliving of the time with Doodle serves as a cathartic experience for the brother.  His guilt has never left him. It is not until he accepts his cruel treatment of  Doodle will Brother move on.  He recalls only the negative aspects of his relationship with Doodle. 

It is easy to forget that the young brother in the memory was only a thirteen, motivated by pride and typical teenage angst.  Remember also that the juvenile brain does not have the ability to foresee the consequences of his actions. 

The young Brother does realize that his motives are self-serving and understands that this is not right.  He does have some fears for Doodle knowing that he is physically fragile.  Brother’s fears are not just for himself; he is afraid for Doodle.  He does not want Doodle to be hurt.  School can be a cruel place for those who are different.  

Often, Brother is too hard on himself because he does forge a relationship with his Doodle.  He wants him to achieve, to swim, and to run. When it is apparent that Doodle cannot do these things, Brother in his despair turns his anger on Doodle.

Doodle is “all there.” His intelligence delighted his brother.  He wanted Doodle to be as normal as he could be. Brother takes matters into his own hands and teaches him how to walk and become more independent; however, he goes too far and contributes to Doodle’s death.

Doodle is willing to do anything to be a part of Brother’s life.  As he works through the summer, it becomes harder to do what Brother wants him to do.  Brother even tells the reader that Doodle is having bad dreams, falling down, and bending as he works out.  Doodle contributes to his own death by not complaining more and refusing to continue the difficult work outs.

The reader must remember that Doodle is only six years old and idolizes his brother.  Doodle does not want to be left behind by Brother. If Doodle had said “no” to Brother, his vulnerability tells him that he would have been left behind.  His innocence does not allow him to choose the best solution,  only the one that would please Brother. 

As Brother recalls the memories of his time with Doodle, these recollections are sometimes sweet, and sometimes excruciatingly painful. The reader wants to hold Brother’s hand as goes down his memory lane. The story argues that memory is a tool that can be used to help a person cope with painful experiences. For Brother’s sake, the reader hopes that he finds his peace.


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