How does the author structure the characterization of the narrator in "The Scarlett Ibis"?

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lsumner | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Senior Educator

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In "The Scarlet Ibis," the narrator shares his memory of his childhood. He shares the events that made up his life as the older brother to Doodle, a handicapped child. The narrator is not named. Doodle calls him Brother. This story is composed of various literary techniques, along with a plot that is driven through characterization of the narrator:

Its value to students of literature lies in its rich use of such devices as foreshadowing and symbolism, its sensitive use of setting to comment on the action, and its compassionate treatment of universal human values and limitations, as well as its compelling, character-driven plot.

Brother tells the story. We learn about Brother and other characters through the descriptions of the narrator. The story is told in first person point of view. It is based on the narrator's reminiscence of childhood:

The story is told as a first-person reminiscence by Brother, who looks back from some time in his maturity to events that took place in his childhood. Thus he is able to imbue the raw events with his reflections on the lessons he learned from them.

Brother shares how he was ashamed of his handicapped brother. We learn how vulnerable Doodle is. We learn of his amazing triumphs in the midst of his frailness. The narrator reveals his own prejudices and the shame that follows his moments of meanness to his little brother:

The narrative technique of reminiscence also enables Brother to foreshadow events before they are described in the narrative,

Brother tells of the scarlet ibis. He uses the bird's death to foreshadow Doodle's death. The story is told through brother's eyes:

That readers only observe the other characters through Brother's eyes might suggest that their sympathies lie with him. However, many readers will sympathize more with Doodle because of the emotional honesty of the adult Brother.

Brother is candid. He is brutally honest. He holds nothing back. He tells of his shameful behavior at pushing Doodle to do more than he could comfortably or realistically do. He leaves Doodle trailing in a rain storm. Doodle collapses and dies from overexertion. Brother runs back to him and falls on Doodle's limp body. As brother is weeping, his heart breaks in two. We see the narrator's anguish through his candid reminiscing.

The adult Brother, however, does not gloss over his negative feelings for Doodle, and this candor increases readers' sympathy for the younger boy, the target of those feelings.

The author develops the characterization of Brother through the narrator's memory. Brother tells the whole story. He leaves nothing out. His narrative is so open and truthful. The reader can both understand the narrator's sentiments while realizing that the narrator's shame as an adult is still real. The reader has sympathy for Brother and Doodle.

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