illustration of a scarlet ibis cradling a boy's body

The Scarlet Ibis

by James Hurst
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How is the narrator's younger brother different from other children when he is born? How does the narrator come up with the name "Doodle"?

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Doodle is born with physical disabilities and limitations. Brother, the narrator, describes how he looked when he was born. "He seemed all head, with a tiny body which was red and shriveled like an old man's." When Doodle began to crawl at age two, he could only crawl backwards. The narrator notes that this made him look like a "doodlebug" and this is where he got the name "Doodle." Because of his birth defects, Doodle progressed much more slowly than other children. His parents wondered if he would ever learn to walk and do other things. 

From birth, Doodle's physical limitations continued. However, with Brother's help, Doodle did finally learn to walk at age five. Brother is embarrassed that he has an "invalid" brother. He admits this. This story is basically a confession of the guilt Brother feels for some of the ways he treated Doodle. Although Brother pushed Doodle to learn how to walk and become more like the other children, he did so for selfish reasons, and in the end he pushed too much. Brother wanted what he would call a "normal" brother. He was helping Doodle more for his own sake than for Doodle's. Brother also admits that he trained Doodle out of pride: 

It seemed so hopeless from the beginning that it's a miracle I didn't give up. But all of us must have something or someone to be proud of, and Doodle had become mine. I did not know then that pride is a wonderful, terrible thing, a seed that bears two vines, life and death. 

 

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