illustration of a scarlet ibis cradling a boy's body

The Scarlet Ibis

by James Hurst

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Discussion Topic

Doodle's relationship with his brother in "The Scarlet Ibis."

Summary:

Doodle's relationship with his brother in "The Scarlet Ibis" is complex, marked by both love and cruelty. His brother pushes Doodle to overcome his physical limitations out of a mixture of pride and shame, leading to moments of genuine bonding as well as significant emotional and physical strain on Doodle.

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Why was Doodle considered a disappointment by his brother in "The Scarlet Ibis"?

When Doodle is born, the older brother is six and declares that "from the outset, [he was] a disappointment."

First of all, Doodle was not shaped like a normal baby. He was born in a caul and

[H]e seemed all head, with a tiny body which was red and shriveled like an old man's.

The brother is also disappointed because he has wanted a real brother -- another boy who can box, climb trees, swim, and race with him. His mother tells the narrator that William Armstrong may not even live. As a result, the brother considers smothering his baby brother with a pillow. The brother acknowledges that he has "a knot of cruelty borne by the stream of love," and at times the narrator is mean to Doodle. Instead of being kind to his little brother, one day the narrator shows Doodle the casket that was made for him as an infant, and the brother threatens not to help Doodle down from the loft they are in.

Fearfully, Doodle tries to do whatever his brother urges him to do, including walk, row a boat, and even run.

Pride drives the brother to make Doodle as normal as he can so Doodle will not be an embarrassment or make him "disappointed."

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Why was Doodle considered a disappointment by his brother in "The Scarlet Ibis"?

Doodle is also a disappointment to Brother because his physical weaknesses are an embarrassment to Brother.  At the end of the story, Brother admits that his own sense of pride caused him to abandon Doodle when he needed his brother most. Brother is similar to many siblings who have a brother or sister who struggles physically or mentally.  He discovers too late that he loved Doodle and spends his time with Doodle instead "training" him so that he will not longer embarrass him.

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Why was Doodle considered a disappointment by his brother in "The Scarlet Ibis"?

The older brother in James Hurst's short story, The Scarlet Ibis, was hoping for a playmate with whom he could share his time: a normal brother. Instead he got Doodle.

I wanted more than anything else someone to race to Horshead Landing with, someone to box with, and someone to perch with in the top fork in the great pine behind the barn... I wanted a brother.

Doodle was so sickly that he was not expected to live, so his father built him a little coffin for when the time came. He was tiny and shriveled, and there was even the possibility that he was not "all there." Brother even considered smothering him with a pillow, but changed his mind when Doodle grinned at him one day. In the end, he proved to be "the craziest brother a boy ever had."

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What could Doodle have done better for his brother in "The Scarlet Ibis"?

Even though Brother helps Doodle do feats he was never expected to do, Brother's motivation for his help was really not to help Doodle, but to have a more "normal" brother. This is exemplified towards the end of the story when Doodle is getting old enough for school. Brother admits he wants people to see Doodle in a "normal" way. He doesn't want to be the boy with a "crippled" sibling. So Brother pushes Doodle beyond his limits. Eventually, when Doodle can no longer "keep up" with him, Brother abandons him and Doodle dies. If Brother had really accepted Doodle, with all of his limitations, Doodle probably would have survived longer and Brother would not have been left so guilt-stricken.

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What could Doodle have done better for his brother in "The Scarlet Ibis"?

The one thing that Doodle had that his brother didn't was compassion.  He showed so much compassion for life in this story.  That was the one thing Brother never really had.  Everything he had Doodle work for was out of selfish reasons and his pride.  Doodle was able to show love for the Scarlet Ibis that had barely made it to their house from a far away storm.  Doodle gave it a burial, as if it was a member of the family.  He was truly broken up from the death of the exotic bird.  Brother never felt any of the sort.  Doodle even showed compassion for nature when they would go to Old Woman Swamp.  He would drag his hands through the long grass and tell Brother, "It's so pretty, pretty, pretty."  He never wanted to leave.  He mentioned moving there with his mom, dad and brother.  He had his own world of love and compassion that Brother never quite understood.

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