The Scarlet Ibis Essays

“The Scarlet Ibis”, a short story by James Hurst, demonstrates how selfishness and greed can be used for the betterment of others. As shown in this short story, Doodle’s brother’s perseverance comes only from selfishness, greed and pride. In the end guilt takes over, bringing out the brother’s love for Doodle, even though Doodle was the exact opposite of what his brother had wished for. “The Scarlet Ibis” is a short story about a boy and his malformed brother, named Doodle. Doodle’s brother wants to have a regular brother, so he teaches Doodle how to walk, he pushes Doodle on, so he can be a regular kid. He pushes Doodle on to an extreme, and kills Doodle in the process. Doodle’s brother acted out of pure selfishness, greed, and pride; nothing else.

Doodle’s brother wanted a brother for the sole purpose of his entertainment, and Doodle did not fit in his brother’s mold. “It was bad enough having an invalid brother”, says the brother, “but having one who possibly was not all there was unbearable, so I began to make plans to kill him…” (345). This statement by Doodle’s brother shows his interest in having a brother is not that of love, not that of mental companionship, but a brother that he could use for personal entertainment. Doodle’s brother wanted a brother who was just like him. A brother that could take care of himself and go on adventures with his brother, a brother like Doodle was not good enough for him, thus showing his level of insensitivity and selfishness.

On page 346 Doodle’s brother takes Doodle up to where his casket is and makes him touch it. Doodle’s brother would only do this to reiterate his control on Doodle and Doodle’s actions. This control which Doodle’s brother wanted, gave him enjoyment; enjoyment to boss around his brother, enjoyment to boss a crippled kid. Doodle’s brother has a mean streak in him, and from that mean streak he finds enjoyment, and throughout the whole story that streak continually comes up, and in the end, Doodle’s brother gets what he wanted from day 1, when he was “planning to kill his brother”.

Doodle learns to walk for the sole reason his brother was embarrassed of him. “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” (347). Here the brother states exactly what this essay is summing up, “I did it for myself”, this is a clear statement of selfishness, possibly pride. “That pride, whose slave I was, spoke to me louder than all their voices”, if you didn’t notice yet that same “pride” is also in my thesis. “And that Doodle walked only because I was ashamed of having a crippled brother”, I will let you derive from that quote what you please. Need I point out that he was embarrassed to be the brother of someone who couldn’t walk. He was the brother of someone who physically was retarded.

He was the brother of a caring person, but just so he would not be judged by the physical condition of his own brother, he teaches him how to walk, not for any cause other than that, but the sole reason, that he is selfishly embarrassed at a inability that isn’t even his own. It brings to mid the obsession Hitler had with what he thought were faulty people. It was an intolerance that scarred our world. Just like Doodle’s brother will also scar the world of him and his family. Doodle’s brother is Hitler. Not a grown up man, but a young boy, who can’t put up with someone because they aren’t as able as he is. He is too embarrassed to find a peaceful way to deal with the problem, so he becomes Hitler, and kills Doodle.

Doodle’s brother finally realizes failure, and he ran away from failure, only to find when he went back to face the truth, more failure, he then feels guilt and out of guilt comes love, for the first time ap real love for his brother. “The knowledge that Doodle’s and my plans had come to naught was bitter, and that streak of cruelty within me awakened. I ran as fast as I could, leaving him far behind with a wall of rain dividing us” (353). At this moment the brother realizes failure, and runs away from it, in both a figurative and literal manner.

When he realizes what he has done he is filled with guilt. “I lay there crying, sheltering my fallen scarlet ibis from the heresy of rain” (354). He finally realizes that all this time he has loved his brother, but failed to show it within himself, and to others. For the first time he understands that not only did he fail in what he wanted to do, but he failed in what he felt was a moral obligation to society, wanting to do this. The brother finally realizes that his Scarlet Ibis is dead, never to come back again. His Scarlet Ibis is dead because he was too morally corrupt to accept what he had, and in that, created failure.

As shown in the preceding paragraphs Doodle’s brother becomes no better than Doodle himself, he is as morally bankrupt as Doodle was physically incapable. In light of the situation the pride, greed and selfishness bettered the life of Doodle, but also ended it short. This story is a sad one, in which a morally bankrupt goes against the physically impaired, and yet again, (as shown through the symbolism of WWI in this story) in war nobody wins. But we must ask ourselves, what if the brother hadn’t shown greed, selfishness and pride; what if the brother had just not cared at all? Would we have ended up with a Scarlet Ibis still alive, a Scarlet Ibis though mauled from birth, still able to interact and do good within society? Would we have ended up with a Scarlet Ibis that not only was interacting with others mentally, but the miracle of medicine was able to cure? Did our scarlet Ibis have a chance at life that his brother took away, or did his brother give him as much chance as he had.

Knowing that his brother's heart is weak, the narrator is, indeed, responsible for the death of his brother in forcing Doodle to run after him in the storm.

In her critical essay on "The Scarlet Ibis," Claire Robinson points to the dualities in life, the spiritual and the physical. Doodle has a spiritual awareness of the beauties of life while Brother focuses on walking, rowing, and running--all physical activities. Because these physical skills are so...

Knowing that his brother's heart is weak, the narrator is, indeed, responsible for the death of his brother in forcing Doodle to run after him in the storm.

In her critical essay on "The Scarlet Ibis," Claire Robinson points to the dualities in life, the spiritual and the physical. Doodle has a spiritual awareness of the beauties of life while Brother focuses on walking, rowing, and running--all physical activities. Because these physical skills are so noticeable, he is ashamed of Doodle for not being able to perform them, ignoring the talents of Doodle and the gifts that he can provide others. Commenting on Brother's expression of "the heresy of rain," as he holds his dead brother in his arms, Robinson writes,

But it was Brother's own shame that killed Doodle, and the true heresy seems to be the fear of difference, the fear of dualities, the fear of accepting contrasting aspects. [Enotes]

At the beginning of Hurst's story, Brother describes his environment that is now barren in the absence of Doodle: the flower garden is "stained with rotting brown magnolia petals," and there are weeds growing. If an oriole sings in the elm tree, "its song seems to die up in the leaves." This description is clearly an admission of the beauty that has been lost with the death of his "scarlet ibis," Doodle. 

Furthermore, brother himself admits that he has born in his heart "a knot of cruelty" and he was "mean to Doodle" because his pride caused him to try to force Doodle to be normal rather than recognizing the special gifts that his sensitive brother possessed.

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