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In "The Scarlet Ibis," what personality and values does the narrator have?

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jingliuu | Student | eNotes Newbie

Posted January 1, 2011 at 6:04 AM via web

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In "The Scarlet Ibis," what personality and values does the narrator have?

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mshurn | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted January 1, 2011 at 5:35 PM (Answer #1)

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"The Scarlet Ibis" is told in the retrospective point of view. That is to say, the narrator is an adult looking back on events from the past. In this particular story, the narrator is relating very significant events from his own childhood and in doing so, he reveals a great deal about himself, both as a child and and as the man he became.

As a boy, the narrator was conflicted. He truly loved his little brother Doodle, but he was also embarrassed by his weakness and delayed development. The two boys spent countless hours together which nurtured the bond between them, but sometimes the narrator resented being responsible for Doodle. Because he was older and stronger and because Doodle depended upon him, the narrator exercised power over Doodle. Sometimes he treated Doodle with childish cruelty, such as the time he forced the little boy to touch his own coffin.

As Doodle neared school age, the narrator feared he would be teased because of his little brother's disabilities. His concern for himself led him to push Doodle into physical deeds that proved to be beyond his endurance. The narrator became obsessed with pride in himself for fostering Doodle's accomplishments before the little boy finally broke.

As a child, the narrator was all of these: loving, cruel, prideful, and self-absorbed. His personality was to lead, but his own selfishness and immaturity led his little brother to a tragic death. When Doodle dies, however, another aspect of the narrator's personality emerges. As he holds his little brother's body, "sheltering" it from the rain, the narrator clearly is shown to be a gentle boy capable of feeling great tenderness and deep grief.

As an adult, the narrator is painfully honest in telling the story of his relationship with Doodle, the little boy's untimely death, and his own role in it. He details his every cruel act. He takes responsibility for his own sin of pride and does not excuse himself for it. In reliving his time with Doodle, the narrator shows that he is still gripped by Doodle's death. As he recounts what happened and how it happened, he also seems to have an adult understanding of why it happened, which indicates he has spent many years thinking about Doodle's death and the part he played in his brother's destruction. The narrator can be seen as a man who now recognizes and values the precious boy Doodle had been, a truth that he had once been too young to understand.

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