In "The Scarlet Ibis," what does the brother mean when he says, "Within me there is a knot of cruelty borne by the stream of love"?

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price7781 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Imagine a parent saying, "I'm punishing you because I love you."  We hear statements like this throughout our lives.  People often push people out of what they claim is love.  However, motives must always be questioned when expectations become cruel.  

Brother’s obsession with Doodle becoming a normal boy represents cruelty that is fueled by his pride.  Because Brother is embarrassed by Doodle’s physical handicaps, he sets out to change Doodle instead of accepting Doodle’s disabilities.  He pushes Doodle beyond his physical limits.  Brother is also cruel when he makes Doodle touch the coffin that was made for Doodle when he was a baby.  However, as readers, we also know that Brother loves Doodle.  As an adult, Brother reminisces about living his life with Doodle at Old Woman’s Swamp where they will have swamp birds as chickens and play stick frog.  As Doodle is describing this wonderful existence in Old Woman’s Swamp, Brother says, “...the picture he painted was so beautiful and serene that all I could do was whisper Yes, yes.”

Although Brother calls Doodle a “disappointment” at the beginning of the story, as an adult Brother realizes just how much he loved Doodle.  Unfortunately, as a child, his pride to make Doodle “normal,” and his cruel behavior towards Doodle won out over the love he felt for him.  Even if Brother's intentions were good in teaching Doodle how to walk, etc., they were overshadowed by Brother’s pride (the cruel knot). 

Read the study guide:
The Scarlet Ibis

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