Why does the narrator cry when everyone congratulates him for teaching Doodle how to walk?

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shake99 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

James Hurst’s  “The Scarlet Ibis” is probably one of the saddest stories ever written. From the very first paragraph, when Hurst uses words like “dead,” “bleeding,” “rank,” “empty,” and “graveyard,” the story sets a grim tone that points the reader toward a tragic resolution.

Hurst’s theme is not only concerned with the fate of the disabled character Doodle, but also that of the first-person narrator, his older brother. Although it seems that Doodle’s attempts to overcome his severe physical disabilities are the primary focus of the story, it is really the unspoken feelings of loss and guilt on the part of the narrator that leaves the strongest mark on the reader.

No one believes that Doodle will ever be able to walk. The narrator, however, works hard with Doodle to teach him to do so. When Doodle walks, the family is overjoyed.  When Doodle gives credit to his brother, it makes him feel guilty:

Doodle told them it was I who had taught him to walk, so everyone wanted to hug me, and I began to cry.

The narrator’s reaction to Doodle’s appreciation reminds the reader that a few paragraphs before we were actually told of the narrator’s motivation for working so diligently with Doodle:

When Doodle was five years old, I was embarrassed at having a brother of that age who couldn't walk, so I set out to teach him. 

So it was the narrator’s shame over his brother’s condition that made him work with Doodle. Unfortunately, the shame will continue to motivate the narrator’s efforts with Doodle, with results that will ultimately be tragic.

bullgatortail eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The narrator in James Hurst's short story "The Scarlet Ibis," is Doodle's brother. He has just completed his quest to teach Doodle how to walk, and after much hard work, the little brother has succeeded. Doodle is presented to his family one day at breakfast, and he surprises everyone (except the brother) by taking his first unassisted steps. First, his mother cries and both the mother and father run to hug Doodle. Then, they want to hug the narrator, and he begins to cry, too. The older brother is crying, not out of joy, but out of guilt, because the only reason he wants Doodle to walk is so the little boy will no longer embarrass him in front of his friends. 

liabia20 | Student

he knew that they were all praising him for the wrong reason...he did it only to benefit for himself. so he felt bad about it.

sha-mary | Student

Because the narrator feels guilty that his parents are so proud of him, when the only reason he helped Doodle in the first place was so that he was no longer embarrased of him.

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The Scarlet Ibis

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