After teaching Doodle to walk, why does the narrator set such a demanding development program for Doodle?

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handbooktoliterature's profile pic

handbooktoliterature | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Adjunct Educator

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In "The Scarlet Ibis" the narrator is the older brother of young Doodle, who has had physical obstacles from birth. Instead of being the overproctective big brother who helps Doodle navigate through a difficult world, much like we all would like to picture ourselves doing if put in that situation, the narrator describes the selfish response most of us typically have in day to day life.

The narrator is embarassed by his puny and awkward little brother Doodle. Because of this, he pushes Doodle to learn how to walk, run, and be the most normal version of a kid that the narrator can muster. But this hard work really doesn't seem to be for Doodle, who is just happy to be spending time with his older brother. Instead, the narrator is teaching and pushing Doodle so the narrator isn't embarassed by him when school begins and he sees all of his friends. He doesn't want to deal with having the little brother who is different. 


mwestwood's profile pic

mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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After Doodle succeeds in walking, the brother sets a demanding program for Doodle because pride will not allow the brother to have a crippled sibling.

When he teaches five-year-old Doodle to walk, the brother is mainly motivated to do so because he is "embarrassed at having a brother of that age who couldn't walk." So, he insists that Doodle learns to walk, "hauling" his brother up each time that he falls until the boy succeeds. Finally, after weeks of secret practicing, Doodle is able to walk on his own, and the brother is overjoyed.

I grabbed him in my arms and hugged him, our laughter pealing through the swamp like a ringing bell. Now we knew it could be done.

When Doodle displays his accomplishment on his sixth birthday, his family is thrilled. Then, after Doodle reveals that it was his brother who has taught him to walk, everyone rushes to hug the brother and he cries. When his father asks the brother why he is crying, the boy cannot answer.

They did not know that I did it for myself; that pride, whose slave I was, spoke to me louder than all their voices; and that Doodle walked only because I was ashamed of having a crippled brother.

After Doodle's accomplishment, the brother decides that Doodle should learn "to run, to swim, to climb trees, and to fight." Feeling that he is infallible, the brother sets deadlines for Doodle's goals. However, in his blind pursuit of making Doodle normal, the brother ignores the toll that such physical efforts take upon the frail boy. Later, after the brother's plans fail, his pride, which he has earlier described as "a wonderful, terrible thing, a seed that bears two vines, life and death" reacts to this failure.

At Horsehead Landing where Doodle is supposed to swim and row, Doodle becomes exhausted. Later, when he cannot keep up with his brother as they start back, the frustrated brother ignores Doodle's pleas and runs faster in his cruel pride and anger. 

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