Quotes lines from "The Scarlet Ibis" that reveal possible attitudes towards and perceptions of mental/physical handicapped people during the time period of the story. From these passages, what do you infer?
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Set during the first decade of the twentieth century--Doodle is born in 1911 and dies in 1918 at the age of seven--the outlook for children with mental and physical handicaps was dismal. There was a prevailing attitude that children with learning difficulties of significant physical impairments were deemed ineducable [see link below]. In the North, these were institutionalized; however, in the South that was more rural and could not support such institutions, these children usually remained at home, but were contained in certain parts of the house and not brought out into public. Families were often ashamed of them as they felt that such children indicated genetic inferiority in themselves.
In Hurst's story, when William Armstrong is born, he was puny and wrinkled, like an old man. "Daddy had Mr. Heath, the carpenter, build a little mahogany coffin for him" because he did not expect his baby to survive. Brother is disappointed because he has wanted someone with whom he could
...race to Horsehead Landing, someone to box with, and someone to perch with in the top fork of the great pine behind the barn....But Mama...told me that even if William Armstrong lived, he would never do these things with me.
Later, Brother notes that it was "bad enough having an invalid brother, but having one who possibly was not all there was unbearable." He even considers smothering his brother with a pillow at night.
But, one night Brother notices that the baby lifts his head, looks at him, and grins. "Mama!" he calls, "He's all there!" Still, it is not until William learns to crawl that he becomes "one of us" and is moved to the front bedroom. Then, because he crawls backwards, the brother nicknames him Doodle, and pulls him around in a wagon. One day Brother takes Doodle to Old Woman Swamp, a particularly picturesque spot with its stream and flora. When Doodle cries over the beauty of nature, Brother feels a stronger sense of fraternity with Doodle, who demonstrates his spiritual side, making Brother feel more that Doodle can attain normalcy. Yet, tragically, the brother selfishly prods Doodle to his death in forcing him to run because he wants his little brother to appear normal and not embarrass him.
From these instances, the reader can infer that during the time period of the story's setting there is an embarrassment in families over their impaired children, a sense that they are subnormal and inadequate and should be hidden in back rooms.
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