In the James Hurst short story "The Scarlet Ibis" the narrator is responsible for Doodle's death. Throughout the story, the narrator tells us of the displeasure and of the embarrassment caused by his brother. The actions that the narrator takes in teaching Doodle how to walk, even when no one thought he would ever walk, are selfishly motivated as he admits through his tears that, "I did it just for myself, that Doodle walked only because I was ashamed of having a crippled brother." Success was achieved, but at what price?
The narrator kept pushing Doodle to achieve more and more challenging goals, and Doodle's physical limitations were disregarded since the narrator "...began to believe in my [his own] infallibility."
Perhaps the key to the narrator's culpability lies in his assessment of Doodle when he says, "Now he [Doodle], too, believed in me." Clearly, throughout the story, Doodle looks up to and idolizes his brother. He will do whatever he has to in order to earn the narrator's approval. Consequently, when the boys are caught out in the storm, and the narrator begins to run home, it is not surprising that Doodle will attempt to keep up with his big brother. So Doodle does, and he runs and runs until his heart gives out.
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Knowing that his brother's heart is weak, the narrator is, indeed, responsible for the death of his brother in forcing Doodle to run after him in the storm.
In her critical essay on "The Scarlet Ibis," Claire Robinson points to the dualities in life, the spiritual and the physical. Doodle has a spiritual awareness of the beauties of life while Brother focuses on walking, rowing, and running--all physical activities. Because these physical skills are so noticeable, he is ashamed of Doodle for not being able to perform them, ignoring the talents of Doodle and the gifts that he can provide others. Commenting on Brother's expression of "the heresy of rain," as he holds his dead brother in his arms, Robinson writes,
But it was Brother's own shame that killed Doodle, and the true heresy seems to be the fear of difference, the fear of dualities, the fear of accepting contrasting aspects. [Enotes]
At the beginning of Hurst's story, Brother describes his environment that is now barren in the absence of Doodle: the flower garden is "stained with rotting brown magnolia petals," and there are weeds growing. If an oriole sings in the elm tree, "its song seems to die up in the leaves." This description is clearly an admission of the beauty that has been lost with the death of his "scarlet ibis," Doodle.
Furthermore, brother himself admits that he has born in his heart "a knot of cruelty" and he was "mean to Doodle" because his pride caused him to try to force Doodle to be normal rather than recognizing the special gifts that his sensitive brother possessed.
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