illustration of a scarlet ibis cradling a boy's body

The Scarlet Ibis

by James Hurst

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Doodle's Imaginary Stories in "The Scarlet Ibis"


In "The Scarlet Ibis," Doodle's imaginary stories reflect his desire for freedom and mobility. These stories often feature characters who can accomplish feats that Doodle himself cannot, symbolizing his hopes and dreams despite his physical limitations.

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Why did Doodle lie about the boy and his peacock in The Scarlet Ibis?

I've always had a small problem with Brother using the word "lie" to describe Doodle's story.  Yes, absolutely, Doodle is making up a fictional story about a boy named Peter and a beautiful peacock; however, I have a hard time calling it a lie.  Doodle isn't telling the story to get out of trouble or gain something.  It's pure fantasy.  My own kids run around our backyard with towels tied around their necks pretending to be superheroes with special powers.  We all know it's not the truth, which is what makes imaginary fantasy so fun.  People like to project their desires and dreams into a fantasy because it can make us feel like something that we are not.  

That's why I think that Doodle tells his story.  Doodle knows that he is physically weak.  Readers are also told in the beginning of the story that Doodle isn't proportionally correct looking, so I don't think he or anybody else would consider him beautiful.  

He was born when I was six and was, from the outset, a disappointment. He seemed all head, with a tiny body which was red and shriveled like an old man's.

Doodle's story is about a boy that wears a beautiful robe and has a beautiful pet peacock.  The entire image of those two is supposed to be so beautiful that people turn away from looking at the sun to stare at the boy and the peacock.  Even in sleep, the boy is covered in technicolor beauty.  Doodle's "lie" allows him to imagine and experience what life would be like if he were somebody that people didn't look at with pity.  

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Why did Doodle lie about the boy and his peacock in The Scarlet Ibis?

In my opinion, Doodle makes up this story because the boy (Peter) represents things that he (Doodle) wishes he were like.  In the story, Peter is really beautiful to look at.  He is so bright in his clothes that the sunflowers turn away from the sun and face him.  When he sleeps, he is protected by the peacock's wings.

I think Doodle wishes he were like that.  He wishes that he were not handicapped -- that people would think he looked great.  I think he feels that he is not safe.  He wishes that someone could wrap him up and protect him.

So the lie is a form of wish fulfillment, in my opinion.

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In "The Scarlet Ibis," why does Doodle make up lies about winged people?

Careful examination of this short story will help you find the answer you are looking for. We are told that Doodle and his brother, the narrator of this moving story, take up lying to help pass the time when they go out to walk. Because Doodle has recently learnt to walk for himself, we can assume that the lying was a distraction that helped him reached his destination without stopping and allowed him to gradually increase the distance he could walk when he went out with his brother. In the narrator's own words, Doodle was a "terrible liar", and his lies reflect his inability to distort the truth. We are told that he had a favourite lie:

His favourite lie was about a boy named Peter who had  apet peacock with a ten-foot tail. Peter wore a golden robe that glittered so brightly that when he walked through the sunflowers they turned away from the sun to face him. When Peter was ready to go to sleep, the peacock spread his magnificent tail, enfolding the boy gently like a closing go-to-sleep flower, burying him in the gloriously iridescent, rustling vortex. Yes, I must admit it. Doodle could beat me lying.

Note how Doodle's inability to lie helps reflect his position as an innocent in the world, an impression that is heightened by his child-like trust in his brother and his general naivety, which is perhaps confirmed by his death - he was a character who was not meant for this world in so many ways, as is foreshadowed by the death of the Scarlet Ibis that Doodle is described as at the end of the story.

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