What are the internal and external conflicts that the characters are faced with in "The Scarlet Ibis"?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Central to the conflicts in "The Scarlet Ibis" is the brother's/narrator's "knot of cruelty borne by the stream of love."

It would seem that the brother tells the story as an expiation for his guilt over the death of Doodle, and, perhaps, as a warning to others to not try to remake people. It is the hubris of the brother, his attempts to remake Doodle, that is central to his and Doodle's conflicts. For instance, when his frail brother becomes able to walk, the narrator admits that "Doodle walked only because I was ashamed of having a crippled brother." Throughout his narrative, the brother admits that his pride, to which he was a "slave," "spoke...louder" to him than all the family members' voices. Indeed, this selfish pride is the driving force for his internal conflicts and many of the external conflicts.

From the beginning, the brother struggles with many internal conflicts. He is ashamed of Doodle: "It was bad enough having an invalid brother, but having one who possibly was not all there was unbearable, so I began to make plans to kill him with a pillow." This early conflict about Doodle's mental faculties is, fortunately, resolved when the baby Doodle smiles at the brother. However, the brother/narrator soon feels that Doodle "was a burden in many ways." So, he struggles with Doodle in external conflicts, trying to force him in different ways to become physically normal. This struggle causes Doodle to have inner conflicts as he tries to measure up to his big brother's expectations. Later, the brother causes an external conflict as he forces Doodle to "swim until he turned blue and row until he couldn't lift an oar." Until the end, the narrator/brother struggles internally with his selfishness and pride that eventually cause the death of Doodle.

It becomes apparent that Doodle's conflicts are brought about mainly because of his brother's demands upon him and his wish for his brother's love and approval. Thus, his conflicts arise from his struggles to make his body perform so that his brother will accept him as normal. Doodle's death is caused by his inner fears of not being loved and approved of and his anxiety about being left behind by his brother. His final struggle is both internal and external. Doodle struggles externally against the rain as he runs to catch his brother because of his fear of being left behind. Sadly, his weak heart fails him.

sciftw eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I believe that Doodle can be used to illustrate both internal and external conflicts.  Externally, Doodle struggles with regular every day activities and life itself.  He is frail, and all throughout his life, his family is more or less expecting him to die.  They have moments of joy.  For example, the family is ecstatic when they learn that Brother has taught Doodle to walk, but even Doodle himself knows that he isn't quite capable of keeping up with everybody else.  The simple act of moving from point A to B is a huge struggle for Doodle.  That's why he is so concerned with being left alone.  He says "Don't leave me" a total of four times in the story.  

Physically, Doodle struggles to keep up with everybody, and I believe he struggles with that internally too.  He wants to do everything that Brother does.  He desperately wants to keep up with his older brother, but he knows that he is limited.  When Doodle was learning to walk, it took weeks and weeks to accomplish a few steps.  There had to be moments when Doodle simply wanted to give up.  If that is too much of a hypothetical for an internal conflict, then Brother is a good character to use.  He openly admits that he struggles with his pride.  He's embarrassed that he has a brother that can't walk, so Brother decides that he will teach Doodle; however, he knows that his motivations are selfish.  There's also a sense that Brother struggles with feelings of guilt over how he treated Doodle.   

clane eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The internal conflict in the story comes from our narrator, Doodle's brother. He struggles with guilt over how he treated his disabled brother. He feels bad for playing mean jokes on him and for pushing him beyond his limits. The guilt especially plagues him when he recalls how unconditionally Doodle loved him no matter what he did to him. Doodle is grateful when his brother saves him from drowning, not even realizing that it was his brother who pushed him in.

The external conflict is best seen through what Doodle faces in the world. He is disabled and he must battle to be normal and he must battle to win over the heart of his older brother. Doodle pushes his body to the limit just to please his brother. He cares nothing for being "normal" only for being loved (which could also be an internal conflict). He deals with being outwardly rejected by the world, although he seems not to mind.