Doodle is one of the main characters in James Hurst's short story "The Scarlet Ibis" about two brothers growing up in the early part of the 20th century on the coast of North Carolina. Doodle is the second son of a farming family that grows cotton. He is born with several physical problems and at first he is a great disappointment to his brother who yearns for a playmate who can run, swim and box with him. Doodle is described:
He was born when I was six and was, from the outset, a disappointment. He seemed all head, with a tiny body which was red and shriveled like an old man's. Everybody thought he was going to die...
Because of the way he crawls Doodle, whose real name is William Armstrong, is named after a bug:
It was I who renamed him. When he crawled, he crawled backwards, as if he were in reverse and couldn't change gears. If you called him, he'd turn around as if he were going in the other direction, then he'd back right up to you to be picked up. Crawling backward made him look like a doodlebug, so I began to call him Doodle, and in time even Mama and Daddy thought it was a better name than William Armstrong.
Eventually Doodle and his brother become inseparable companions, spending hours exploring the marshlands around their home. Doodle's brother is the narrator and he tells the story from many years after the events took place. Because he is embarrassed by having a crippled brother, the narrator sets out to improve Doodle physically. He is successful in teaching him to walk, but fails in attempts to make him as vigorous as other young boys his age. Eventually Doodle dies from internal bleeding after being pushed too hard by his brother, who is frustrated by Doodle's lack of progress.
Doodle is a sensitive, imaginative and determined young boy. When the narrator brings Doodle to Old Woman Swamp the boy shows his appreciation for the beauty of nature:
His eyes were round with wonder as he gazed about him, and his little hands began to stroke the rubber grass. Then he began to cry. “For heaven’s sake, what’s the matter?” I asked, annoyed. “It’s so pretty,” he said. “So pretty, pretty, pretty.”
Doodle also has a vivid imagination. While spending time in nature the two boys share their thoughts, and like all young boys they create fantasy stories with strange characters and settings:
People in his stories all had wings and flew wherever they wanted to go. His favorite lie was about a boy named Peter who had a pet peacock with a ten-foot tail. Peter wore a golden robe that glittered so brightly that when he walked through the sunflowers they turned away from the sun to face him. When Peter was ready to go to sleep, the peacock spread his magnificent tail, enfolding the boy gently like a closing go-to-sleep flower, burying him in the glorious iridescent, rustling vortex.
Doodle exhibits his determination when the scarlet ibis lands in the "bleeding tree." He is the first to see the bird and he witnesses its death:
At that moment the bird began to flutter, but the wings were uncoordinated, and amid much flapping and a spray of flying feathers, it tumbled down, bumping through the limbs of the bleeding tree and landing at our feet with a thud.
Doodle recognizes the exotic beauty of the bird and insists on burying the ibis, even though the shovel he uses is bigger than he is. The bird, of course, is a symbol for Doodle. It is a rare bird, not unlike the peacock in his story, far from its home and rendered fragile by its long journey. It has been thrown off course by the tumultuous weather, which is a peripheral element of the story and represents the turbulent relationship between the two brothers. Doodle is also "special" and fragile. The description of Doodle's death mirrors the death of the bird in the story's final lines:
He lay very awkwardly, with his head thrown far back, making his vermilion neck appear unusually long and slim. His little legs, bent sharply at the knees, had never before seemed so fragile, so thin.