Study Guide

The Scarlet Ibis

by James Hurst

The Scarlet Ibis Summary

Summary

The Scarlet Ibis

"The Scarlet Ibis" opens with the narrator, Brother, reminiscing about a remarkable event that took place when he was a young boy at his family home at the end of the summer of 1918. A scarlet ibis, an exotic bird that does not belong in the narrator's region, landed in a tree in the family garden. This memory sparks off another in Brother's mind: the birth of his mentally and physically disabled brother, Doodle, when Brother was six years old. Nobody expected Doodle to live except Aunt Nicey, who delivered him. Doodle is a disappointment to everyone, particularly to Brother, who had wanted a brother who could run, jump, and race with him. A sobbing Mama believed he would never do these things and warned that he may not be mentally "'all there.'" Brother, appalled by the prospect of having a mentally retarded brother, plans to kill him. But one day, Doodle grins at Brother, and Brother decides that he is "'all there.'"

By the time he is two, Doodle can only lie in bed or crawl backwards like a doodle-bug (hence Brother's choice of nickname, which sticks). Daddy builds a go-cart for him, and Doodle and the rest of the family press Brother into pulling him along with him everywhere he goes. Brother takes Doodle to Old Woman Swamp, where they pick flowers and make garlands for themselves. Doodle cries at the beauty of the place.

However, Brother is sometimes cruel to Doodle. He shows him the coffin that Daddy ordered after Doodle's birth and stored in the barn loft and makes him touch it, threatening to leave him there if he does not. Doodle calmly declares that the coffin is not his but reacts with terror to the threat of being left alone, crying, "'Don't leave me.'"

When Doodle is five, Brother feels embarrassed at having a brother who cannot walk and decides to teach him in secret. Doodle believes that he cannot walk and, indeed, does not see the need to. But Brother takes Doodle to Old Woman Swamp and laboriously works with him until he...

(The entire section is 807 words.)