What is the main conflict in James Hurst's "The Secret Ibis?"

Expert Answers
booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The main conflict of "The Scarlet Ibis" by James Hurst is Brother's inability to deal with Doodle's disabilities: his concern more for himself than Doodle.

When Doodle is born, Brother considers killing him because he is "not right."

He was born when I was six and was, from the outset, a disappointment.

Brother starts to pull Doodle around in a go-cart. Doodle greatly depends on his brother.

[Doodle] was a burden in many ways.

And Brother is often mean to his brother.

There is within me (and with sadness I have watched it in others) a knot of cruelty borne by the stream of love, much as our blood sometimes bears the seed of our destruction, and at times I was mean to Doodle.

They visit the loft and see the coffin that Brother's parents thought they would need for Doodle. Brother makes Doodle touch it and threatens to leave him alone if he does not. However, Brother also teaches his brother to walk, which amazes and delights the entire family. But while everyone hugs the two boys, Brother knows what motivated him, and he is ashamed—it was more pride than love: a major theme in the story.

Brother cries with unspoken shame, in the knowledge that his real motive was not love, but pride.

Brother is torn between doing for his brother and feeling like he is saddled with him. The central conflict in the story is found with Brother trying to live a "normal" life with an "exceptional" brother—in other words, he is torn between doing things to help his brother and doing things for his own benefit.

Brother never learns to fully appreciate Doodle for the special person he is. At the end of the story, Brother abandons his ailing brother in the middle of a thunderstorm. He finally stops, waiting for Doodle to appear—and when he does not show up, Brother finds his brother dead. Perhaps it is only now that he can appreciate his brother for who he was, apart from how Brother felt inconvenienced and embarrassed by him.

Childishly, Brother is more interested in himself than in others, even his brother who so needs him.