Why did James Hurst write "The Scarlet Ibis"?

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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One of the more disturbing themes that can be attached to this excellent short story is the danger that there is of not accepting somebody for who they are and desiring to make them into what another person thinks they should be. This is shown through the narrator's stubborn refusal to allow Doodle, his younger brother, to remain weak and unable to participate in life through his disabilities. As a result, he teaches him how to walk, sucessfully. Then, buoyed by this success, he moves on to create a more elaborate training program to remake Doodle in the way that he would like him to be:

Once I had succeeded in teaching Doodle to walk, I began to believe in my own infallibility, and I prepared a terrific development program for him, unknown to Mama and Daddy, of course. I would teach him to run, to swim, to climb trees, and to fight. He, too, now believed in my infallibility, so we set the deadline for these accomplishments less than a year away, when, it had been decided, Doodle could start school.

In the end, of course, is the narrator's inability to accept Doodle and to value him for who he is that ends in Doodle's early death, as he is not able to live up to his brother's great expectations and hopes for him. The fact that the story is set against the backdrop of the Great War heightens this theme, as it focuses on the conflict that existed between them and makesĀ a link to the conflict that so many young men at that time were engaged in. One of the reasons that the author wrote this short story therefore was to explore the dangers of seeking to transform another and change them into the person that you think they should be, rather than being able to accept them for who they are.

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