illustration of a scarlet ibis cradling a boy's body

The Scarlet Ibis

by James Hurst

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What does Doodle lie about in "The Scarlet Ibis," and what does he picture his perfect future to be?

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In the story, Doodle's lies are a manifestation of his desire to have control over his life. Essentially, his lies constitute the vehicle with which he can transcend his disabilities.

In Doodle's stories, everyone can fly, and no one is impeded in any way. Brother relates that Doodle's "favorite lie"...

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In the story, Doodle's lies are a manifestation of his desire to have control over his life. Essentially, his lies constitute the vehicle with which he can transcend his disabilities.

In Doodle's stories, everyone can fly, and no one is impeded in any way. Brother relates that Doodle's "favorite lie" is about a boy named Peter, who has a resplendent peacock for a pet. According to Doodle, Peter's golden robe shines brighter than the sun itself, and when he walks past the sunflowers, they turn towards him. In this fantastical lie, the peacock and Peter are connected by their mutual ability to transcend the laws of nature. When Peter falls asleep, the peacock shields him with its magnificent ten-foot tail. In Doodle's favorite lie, Peter is his incarnation; by all indications, Peter represents everything Doodle wants to be: able, powerful, and self-reliant.

To Doodle, the perfect future consists of him and his brother living in Old Woman Swamp and picking dog-tongue for a living. Their house will be built from "whispering leaves" and they will have "swamp birds" for chickens. When they are not picking dog-tongue, Doodle imagines that he and Brother will be swinging through the cypress trees on rope vines. When it rains, both boys will take shelter under an umbrella tree and play stick frog. In Doodle's perfect world, he will marry Mama and Brother will marry Daddy, and all four of them will live happily ever after in their flawless paradise.

In the story, Doodle sometimes lies to his parents as well. Despite his personal challenges, he yearns to be as capable in his fantasies as he is in real life. When his mother forbids him to bury the dead ibis, Doodle promises that he will resist. However, immediately after making the promise, he goes outside to retrieve the ibis and uses a piece of looped string to drag the dead bird to the front yard. There, he laboriously digs a hole next to the petunia bed, where he buries the bird.

Basically, Doodle's lies are a way for him to transcend the limitations imposed by his physical and mental disabilities.

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Brother, the narrator of the story, says that Doodle's lies are twice as crazy as his, but Doodle's "lies" are not really untruths; they are imaginary stories of how he wishes life could be.  All of his stories include "birds" and people who can fly.  Obviously, Doodle wishes that getting around was not so difficult, and the wings are a solution to his pain and efforts that he encounters when learning to walk and run.

When Doodle and Brother discuss their future, they talk about living out near the swamp with swamp birds as their chickens.  Even in this "realistic" story, Doodle wants them to be able to

"swing through the cypresses on the rope vines,"

negating the need for him to walk or touch the ground.

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