illustration of a scarlet ibis cradling a boy's body

The Scarlet Ibis

by James Hurst

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How is pride depicted in "The Scarlet Ibis"?

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The brother's pride is the driving force for what occurs in the narrative of James Hurst's "The Scarlet Ibis."

The narrator/ brother initially describes his little brother, to whom he gives the nickname Doodle, as a "disappointment" and "a burden." Clearly, the little brother is an affront to the narrator's pride. At first, Doodle just lies on a rubber sheet and does not seem to be "all there." Later, he does develop some, but he still cannot walk. As a result, the proud brother, who is embarrassed to do so, must pull Doodle in a go-cart his father made for him. Because of this perceived affront to his pride, the brother insists Doodle learn to walk. They practice secretly because the brother knows he should not strain Doodle, whose heart is weak. Nevertheless, he pressures Doodle to practice for weeks until he can finally walk. The boys decide not to reveal this learned skill until a special occasion occurs; they choose Doodle's sixth birthday. After bringing Doodle to the doorway of the dining room in the cart, the brother tells all the other family members to turn their backs and not to peek around. He helps his brother up. While Doodle stands, his brother tells the family they can now look.

There wasn't a sound as Doodle walked slowly across that room and sat down at his place at the table.

When the adults see Doodle walk slowly across the room and sit down at the table, they are overjoyed. When they congratulate the brother, who Doodle credits with his accomplishment, the brother suddenly begins to cry in shame. 

They did not know that I did it for myself; that pride, whose slave I was, spoke to me louder than all their voices; and that Doodle walked only because I was ashamed of having a crippled brother.

Later on, in the summer, the brother gives Doodle swimming lessons and tries to teach his brother to row a boat because he does not want to be embarrassed by Doodle before school begins. The stress upon Doodle is apparent, as he looks feverish and does not sleep well. Nevertheless, in his blind pride, the brother pushes Doodle to keep working.

I should have already admitted defeat, but my pride would not let me. . . It was too late to turn back, for we had wandered too far into a net of expectations and had left no crumbs behind.

Even the appearance of the omen of the scarlet ibis, a delicate and beautiful bird who wanders too far out of its element and dies, does not arrest the brother in his selfish drive to make Doodle normal. Shortly before school begins, the brother takes Doodle out on the water and makes him row back against the tide and the approach of a storm. When they finally reach shore, Doodle is exhausted, and as the rain begins to pelt them, Doodle falls behind his brother in their rush to get home. "Brother, Brother, don't leave me! Don't leave me!" he cries, but the pride and the "streak of cruelty" in the brother emerges as he is its "slave," and he runs as fast as he can. When he finally turns back for Doodle, the narrator finds his piteous brother limply seated with his face buried in his arms. When his brother moves Doodle, he falls backward onto the earth, dead. Just as the beautiful and fragile scarlet ibis has died, both the ibis and Doodle are victims of a certain pride that has pushed too far.

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What does the storyteller say about human pride in "The Scarlet Ibis"?

The end of the story tells us much of human pride in terms of results. If we let our goals and ambitions get the better of us, we can likely destroy that which matters to us the most.

"Doodle!" I screamed above the pounding storm and threw my body to the earth above his. For a long time, it seemed forever, I lay there crying, sheltering my fallen scarlet ibis from the heresy of rain.

It can lead to the most dramatic moments of terrible failure and pain.

Referring specifically to other places in the text, the brother in particular began to believe himself invincible in terms of what he could do with Doodle:

Once I had succeeded in teaching Doodle to walk, I began to believe in my own infallibility, and I prepared a terrific development program for him, unknown to Mama and Daddy, of course. I would teach him to run, to swim, to climb trees, and to fight.

To see no end to one's own capability is a dangerous thing, especially when going against the advice of an expert. Sure, Doodle had beat the odds and expectations before, but that didn't mean it would happen every time. Humankind, no matter how capable, is all bound by mortality.

One of my favorite quotes about pride in this piece comes directly from the author:

All of us must have something or someone to be proud of, and Doodle had become mine. I did not know then that pride is a wonderful, terrible thing, a seed that bears two vines, life and death.

To think of pride metaphorically like this as a seed with two vines we realizes two forces might be fighting with each other over our abilities and choices within us. To be prideful can be both bad and good. Under certain circumstances, like when doing school work, it is important to take pride in your work. Under others, like when showing someone how much more attractive you are than them, pride is ugly.

Hope these thoughts help.

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In "The Scarlet Ibis," how does the author use the theme of pride?

In "The Scarlet Ibis" the brother's interactions with Doodle are all motivated by pride. When his disabled baby brother still cannot walk at age five, the narrator takes Doodle to Old Woman Swamp Creek until he learns to walk at age six. When Doodle tells his family that his brother has taught him, the members of the family want to embrace him in their elation, but Brother begins to cry.

"What are you crying for?" asked Daddy, but I couldn't answer. They did not know that I did it for myself, that pride, whose slave I was, spoke to me louder than all their voices, and that Doodle walked only because I was ashamed of having a crippled brother

Further, after his accomplishment of teaching Doodle to walk, Brother began to believe he is infallible, so he "prepared a terrific development program for him, unknown to Mama and Daddy, of course." But, in truth, Doodle is strained to comply with the programs that Brother devises. For instance, he has Doodle swimming and climbing, activities which greatly strain his compromised little body. When Doodle stops, or says he cannot co something, Brother tells him,

"Aw, come on, Doodle....You can do it. Do you want to be different from everybody else when you start school?"

"Does it make any difference?"

"It certainly does."

Finally, Brother's pride exceeds his reason when Doodle cannot accomplish the goals set for him. In anger one day, Brother runs from his tired and frightened brother in the storm, even when he hears Doodle calling to him. Already exhausted from his athletic activities, poor Doodle collapses, a victim of the selfishness and overbearing pride of Brother.

"Doodle!" I screamed above the pounding storm and threw my body to the earth above his. For a long time, it seemed forever, I lay there crying, sheltering my fallen scarlet ibis from the heresy of rain.

This "heresy of rain" is a metaphor for the falseness of Brother's motives for running. For, truly, it is his stubborn pride that has caused the death of Doodle.

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In "The Scarlet Ibis," what does the narrator's pride have to do with the plot?

Brother has a younger brother.  His name is Doodle, and Doodle is mentally and physically handicapped.  The doctors never expected him to live long, but Doodle defied that prediction.  Other predictions followed.  He would never be able to crawl.  If he did manage to crawl, the strain on his heart would be too great, and Doodle would die.  That didn't happen either.  

By the time that Doodle was five, Brother was embarrassed that he didn't have a brother that could walk.  His pride made him ashamed of Doodle.  Brother absolutely could have distanced himself from Doodle at this moment, but he does the complete opposite.  Brother works continuously with Doodle for weeks in order to teach him how to stand up and walk.  The family is amazed at what Brother was able to accomplish, and the family praised him for his love of Doodle.  But Brother tells his readers that it wasn't love that motivated him.  It was pride.  

They did not know that I did it for myself, that pride, whose slave I was, spoke to me louder than all their voices, and that Doodle walked only because I was ashamed of having a crippled brother.

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