At a Glance
“The Scarlet Ibis” key characters:
In “The Scarlet Ibis,” the narrator, known only as Brother, recalls his determination to train his physically and mentally challenged younger brother, and the love mixed with cruel pride that led to Doodle’s death.
Mama and Daddy love Doodle but, as with the scarlet ibis, fail to appreciate him; they accept his disabilities and despair, as exemplified by the coffin and the go-cart.
Doodle, physically and mentally challenged, defies everyone’s expectations by first surviving and then learning to walk; he loves his brother, is deeply moved by the beauties of nature, and fears being abandoned.
- The deeply religious Aunt Nicey is the only one who predicts Doodle’s survival; the circumstances of his birth and survival convince her he is meant for sainthood.
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...
(The entire section is 791 words.)