“The Scarlet Ibis” takes a hard look at the consequences of pride. The knowledge that his baby brother may be not only physically weak but also cognitively disabled is such a blow to the six-year-old narrator’s pride that he contemplates smothering the infant with a pillow. Only a smile of recognition from the prone baby convinces him the child’s intellectual development is progressing normally and halts thoughts of murder. For the first years of Doodle’s life, the narrator attempts to dissociate himself from his brother. To avoid having to continue publicly chauffeuring his sibling, who he says is “a sight” with a too-big sunhat in a go-cart, he intentionally oversets the vehicle, injuring Doodle. When rough treatment fails to keep Doodle from clinging to him, the narrator accepts that he will be associated with his brother. As a result, he begins working to eliminate the sources of shame he identifies in Doodle. The narrator insists Doodle continue his program of exercise despite the spell of fevers and nightmares the younger boy begins to experience. The narrator appears motivated by both fear of shame (he is aware that Doodle’s first day of school is coming) and a prideful admiration of his younger brother’s growth and determination, which have overcome all the doctor’s predictions. Ultimately, it is this pride that causes him to push Doodle too far. The younger boy, exhausted from weeks of exercise, can’t keep up and dies in the attempt. Though the narrator has clearly come to love his brother, his pride blinds him to Doodle’s limitations, and his fear of shame seals Doodle’s fate.
Expectations and Acceptance
The narrator, six years old at the time of Doodle’s birth, has pinned his hopes on a brother who will be a playmate and companion in his adventures. He cannot conceive of anything less than the brother he envisions—and when presented with Doodle, whom he sees as a poor substitute, he contemplates murder. He is inflexible; he prefers no brother to one that doesn’t meet his expectations, and he spends the next few years trying to dissociate himself from his sibling. When this fails, he attempts against all odds to mold Doodle into something closer to the brother he hoped for. Blinded by the vision of who...
(The entire section is 943 words.)