illustration of a scarlet ibis cradling a boy's body

The Scarlet Ibis

by James Hurst
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Why is "The Scarlet Ibis" so popular and memorable? What feelings do you think it taps into?

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"The Scarlet Ibis " is memorable because it treats universal themes related to difference. Brother, the narrator of the story, wants his younger brother Doodle to be like other kids, and he relentlessly tries to teach him to walk and later to row. Brother's way of showing affection and...

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"The Scarlet Ibis" is memorable because it treats universal themes related to difference. Brother, the narrator of the story, wants his younger brother Doodle to be like other kids, and he relentlessly tries to teach him to walk and later to row. Brother's way of showing affection and love for Doodle is to help him be like others and to erase what makes him distinctive and special. Others, such as Doodle's parents, accept Doodle's essential differences.

The question that the text poses is whether one should try to help another erase differences to fit in, knowing that if the other person remains distinctive, he or she could face discrimination and hardship. This type of dilemma faces people in different situations, and it's a universal question. The story taps into feelings of being helpless in the face of overwhelming love for another person.

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The story is memorable largely because Doodle's character is unforgettable. A gentle, sensitive, and sweet-natured child, Doodle is abused physically and emotionally by the brother he loves. Doodle's need for his big brother is so great that Doodle tries hard to please him; Doodle dies trying to please him. He cannot defend himself against his brother's unrealistic demands or his bursts of cruelty. Doodle evokes great sympathy--for his size, his frailty, and the physical disabilities he struggles to overcome. He also gains our sympathy because he is so innocent, he suffers so much, and his death is so tragic and unnecessary. The dramatic conclusion of "The Scarlet Ibis" remains with the reader long after finishing the story. It is shocking and tragic, and the picture of Doodle's small broken body lying in the rain, cradled in death by his brother, is powerful and more than poignant.

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