illustration of a scarlet ibis cradling a boy's body

The Scarlet Ibis

by James Hurst

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The Scarlet Ibis Characters

The main characters in "The Scarlet Ibis" are Brother, Doodle, Aunt Nicey, Mama, and Daddy.

  • Brother is the narrator who recalls his determination to train his physically and mentally challenged younger brother, Doodle. Brother's actions ultimately lead to Doodle's death.

  • Mama and Daddy are Brother and Doodle's parents. They love Doodle but, as with the scarlet ibis, fail to appreciate him.

  • Doodle is born sickly, but he defies everyone’s expectations by first surviving and then learning to walk. Doodle loves his brother, but he ultimately dies trying to meet his brother's expectations.

  • Aunt Nicey is a deeply religious woman who predicts Doodle’s survival.


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Brother is the lead protagonist of the story and also the narrator. He is not given a name but is referred to by Doodle, his brother, only as "Brother." He is six years old when Doodle is born. Brother has a high opinion of his own ability to run, jump, and climb, and wants a brother with whom he can share these activities. When it becomes clear that Doodle is capable of little more than lying on a rubber sheet and crawling backwards, Brother grows ashamed of Doodle's limitations and regularly taunts him. Though Brother loves Doodle, the love is tainted with cruelty and embarrassment.

At the urging of Doodle and his parents, Brother reluctantly allows Doodle to accompany him on all his expeditions, pulling him along in his go-cart. Driven by shame at having a crippled sibling, Brother forms a plan to secretly teach Doodle to walk. Eventually, he succeeds. This initial success is not, however, enough for Brother, who is determined that Doodle will not shame him by being seen as different when he starts school. Brother pushes Doodle to do more and more strenuous activities until one day, he breaks into a run, leaving Doodle trailing. Doodle overstrains himself trying to keep up and dies of a heart attack. Brother weeps over his fallen brother and recognizes the symbolic link between Doodle and the beautiful and rare scarlet ibis that had fallen dead from a tree in the family garden earlier that day.


Daddy, the father of Brother's family, has a coffin built for Doodle soon after his birth, in the belief that he will die. When Doodle survives, Daddy builds a go-cart for Doodle so that Brother can pull him around.


Doodle is the mentally and physically challenged younger brother of the narrator, Brother. His family initially calls him by his given name, William Armstrong, but Brother nicknames him Doodle (after a doodle-bug, because of his habit of crawling backwards) and the name sticks. From the first, Doodle is a disappointment to his family, especially to Brother, because Doodle can only lie on a rubber sheet and crawl backwards. Everyone expects Doodle to die, but he defies them all and survives, becoming a loving boy with a strong attachment to Brother. Doodle is pulled around in a go-cart by Brother until Brother teaches Doodle to walk. This achievement, however, seems more important to Brother than it does to Doodle.

Doodle's real strengths lie not on the level of his physical prowess, but on a more subtle inward level, to which Brother seems blind at the time the action takes place. From the beginning of his life, Doodle defies death and refuses to recognize the coffin that Daddy builds for him as his own. He shows a sense of wonder and respect for the natural world, crying with wonder at the wild beauty of Old Woman Swamp. He is the first to notice the visiting ibis and honors the bird by giving it a careful burial while finding a way of respecting his mother's orders not to touch it. The fact that Doodle is the only member of the family to care for the scarlet ibis enough to bury it shows his compassionate heart and emphasizes a symbolic link between boy and bird. This symbolic link is confirmed when Doodle dies on the same day as the bird and in a way that mirrors its fate.

Doodle's greatest fear is of being left behind by the impatient Brother on their expeditions together. When this happens one day, he dies of a heart attack while trying to keep up with Brother.


Mama, the mother in Brother's family, despairs of Doodle's future from the beginning. She tearfully predicts that Doodle will never run or climb with Brother and believes that he might not be mentally normal. When the scarlet ibis drops dead from the tree, Mama forbids Doodle to touch the bird in case it is diseased. Mama's attitude to Doodle is reflected in her attitude to the bird: in both cases, she fails to see the beautiful and miraculous and expresses only fear and anxiety.

Aunt Nicey

Aunt Nicey is aunt to Brother and Doodle. She delivers Doodle and is the only person who believes that he will live. She has a religious nature, giving thanks to God when Doodle shows everyone that he can walk. Because Doodle is born with a caul, traditionally believed to be "Jesus' nightgown," Aunt Nicey warns that he should be treated with special respect since he may turn out to be a saint. Though prompted by superstitious belief, the comment shows an appreciation of Doodle's spiritual qualities and foreshadows a suggested symbolic link between Doodle, the ibis, and Christ.

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