illustration of a scarlet ibis cradling a boy's body

The Scarlet Ibis

by James Hurst

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Why is "The Scarlet Ibis" popular and memorable? What feelings does it evoke?

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"The Scarlet Ibis" is memorable because it treats universal themes related to difference. Brother, the narrator of the story, wants his younger brother Doodle to be like other kids, and he relentlessly tries to teach him to walk and later to row. Brother's way of showing affection and love for Doodle is to help him be like others and to erase what makes him distinctive and special. Others, such as Doodle's parents, accept Doodle's essential differences.

The question that the text poses is whether one should try to help another erase differences to fit in, knowing that if the other person remains distinctive, he or she could face discrimination and hardship. This type of dilemma faces people in different situations, and it's a universal question. The story taps into feelings of being helpless in the face of overwhelming love for another person.

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The story is memorable largely because Doodle's character is unforgettable. A gentle, sensitive, and sweet-natured child, Doodle is abused physically and emotionally by the brother he loves. Doodle's need for his big brother is so great that Doodle tries hard to please him; Doodle dies trying to please him. He cannot defend himself against his brother's unrealistic demands or his bursts of cruelty. Doodle evokes great sympathy--for his size, his frailty, and the physical disabilities he struggles to overcome. He also gains our sympathy because he is so innocent, he suffers so much, and his death is so tragic and unnecessary. The dramatic conclusion of "The Scarlet Ibis" remains with the reader long after finishing the story. It is shocking and tragic, and the picture of Doodle's small broken body lying in the rain, cradled in death by his brother, is powerful and more than poignant.

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Why is "The Scarlet Ibis" so memorable?

"The Scarlet Ibis" is so memorable because it shows the sentiments of a brother who felt that his little brother Doodle was a burden. The narrator or older brother shares a candid, upfront narrative that puts him in a bad light. He is so honest about his true feelings in having a handicapped little brother.

The narrator does not pretend to be happy about having a handicapped little brother. He shares explicit details related to the embarrassment he had while Doodle was getting ready to begin school. The narrator refuses to allow Doodle to be a burden. He teaches him to walk and even run.

Although the narrator is sometimes cruel to his little brother, especially when he made Doodle touch the little coffin, there is another layer of truth that unfolds. The narrator dearly loves his little brother. As a child himself, the narrator's embarrassment of Doodle was a natural feeling. He did not desire for the school children to make fun of Doodle. Yes, he was embarrassed, but underneath the embarrassment, the narrator has developed a bond with Doodle. This bond is revealed when Doodle falls in the rain storm to his death. The narrator cannot stop crying as he stretches himself over Doodle's dead body:

Brother goes back and finds Doodle dead. He has been bleeding from the mouth, and his neck and the front of his shirt are red with blood. The position of his body is reminiscent of that of the scarlet ibis. Brother recognizes the link between the ibis's fate and Doodle's. He weeps, sheltering Doodle's body from the rain with his own.

No doubt, "The Scarlet Ibis" is a love story that sadly ends with Doodle's death. Two brothers became so close until they were inseparable. Even in death, their two bodies are as one as the narrator shelters Doodle from the pouring rain.

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