What universal truths can be found in "The Scarlet Ibis" by James Hurst?

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carol-davis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

James Hurst created the character of Doodle to explore the realities of a life without the chance of fulfilling any potential.  In his short story, "The Scarlet Ibis," the narrator is the older brother of Doodle, who struggles his whole life just to live. 

The story has many lessons that the reader can encapsulate into his own life.  These are universal truths that if understood enable a person to make better choices.

  • Emily Dickinson wrote: Hope is a thing with feathers...that settles in the soul.

Never give up hope.  Doodle's parents do not expect much from Doodle.  The doctor had prepared them that if he lived,  he might not be right. Doodle's  loving little spirit has nested in a weak body; however, he is gentle, compassionate, and kind.  

  • The old adage states that ‘Pride goeth before a fall.’

Brother invests in foolish pride. He does not like having an invalid for a brother. In fact, for Brother there seems to be little difference between pride and shame. He says that because he was pride's "slave." He wanted Doodle to walk so he could be proud of him, and no longer ashamed.

  • A Hindu proverb states: Help your brother's boat across, and your own will reach the shore.

A boy should love his brother unconditionally and help him when he needs it. Doodle’s brother does not seem to have that kind of feeling for his brother.  He treats him much like a trained animal.  If the brother had helped Doodle to get better, the brother would have been facilitating his own happiness.  Instead, the brother chose to be

  • Jane Austin wrote: The younger brother must help to pay for the pleasures of the elder.  

The brother often laughed at Doodle. Many times his laughter was for the wrong reasons. Doodle’s brother never accepts him as his equal or even as his real brother. Not until the brother finds Doodle dead under the nightshade bush, does he realize his loss.

  • Love and cruelty are sometimes parallel emotions. 

The brother was always aware when he was being cruel to Doodle. He would announce it to the reader.  When he made Doodle touch his own coffin, the brother admits that it was a terrible thing.  

Brothers should be together for life sharing life's joys and sorrows, love and pain.  The narrator realizes too late what he missed in life by not loving his brother unconditionally.