Throughout this story, the narrator allows his pride to cloud his compassion and blind him to Doodle's limitations. He is too proud to accept having a disabled brother, and this is why he takes every measure he can to teach Doodle to do able-bodied things. Because of his pride, he does these things more with his own benefit in mind than his brother's. This story is a clear condemnation of blinding and debilitating pride, since the narrator's pride brings about the eventual death of Doodle.
Doodle is different from everyone else right from the start of the story, and the narrator has trouble accepting that. He cannot cope with the fact that Doodle does not fit with his image of a perfect younger sibling. When he pushes Doodle into learning physical skills, he threatens him with the thought of being different from everyone else when he starts school. But "different" does not necessarily have to be bad; Aunt Nicey is the one person who consistently claims that Doodle's differences make him special, not a pariah.
It can often be tempting to push ourselves and the people we love past their limits in the hopes of achieving a goal, just like what happened with Doodle and the narrator. Sometimes this produces great results; after all, Doodle did learn to walk after working extremely hard. But it is important to be able to recognize when too much is just too much. The narrator was not able to see this, and he continued to push Doodle to his breaking point.
This story illustrates the importance of family bonds, particularly those between brothers. Doodle clearly looks up to the narrator, but many times over the course of the story the narrator fails to be the caring and compassionate brother he should be; instead, he is more concerned with the implications of having a disabled sibling. Without the support of his family or his brother, the person he looks up to most in the world, Doodle's strength was bound to leave him. At the end, following Doodle's death, the narrator realizes just how important his brother is to him, but by then it is far too late.
Because this story is framed as a retrospective, there is a lot of room for the narrator's guilt to come through. The narrator flashes back to this time in his life with a wistful, guilt-ridden tone; it is clear he blames himself for Doodle's death, even though Doodle was extremely unhealthy to begin with and other factors came into play as well. Though readers are not given further information about the narrator's current life, they are left with the question of whether or not he will ever be able to overcome his guilt, move on, and be happy.
From the very first time the narrator takes Doodle to Old Woman Swamp, Doodle has an eye for all things beautiful. Natural beauty plays a huge role in this story, from the vivid descriptions of the house and its surroundings, the swamp, the storm, the creek, and so much more, right to the beauty of the fallen scarlet ibis itself. Both boys appreciate the beauty around them, but Doodle does especially; the natural world serves as a kind of therapy for him, a means of healing himself and moving forward in the face of his disability.
Doodle's life, though short, was all about taking people by surprise and exceeding the expectations that others had for him. First, everyone believed that he would die, since caul babies usually do. Next, they believed that he would not be entirely sane because of his condition. Finally, they believed that he would never be able to walk. Every time, he proved them wrong. Even though Doodle ultimately could not overcome his physical limitations, his life was still an impressive story of beating the odds.
"The Scarlet Ibis" is a short story by American author James Hurst. It was first published in 1960 in The Atlantic Monthly. After that, it found its way into middle and high school anthologies, and is frequently taught today. "The Scarlet Ibis" is a troubling tale of two brothers. One brother, called Doodle, has physical disabilities and serious health problems. The other brother, known only as Brother, is desperate to turn Doodle into a "normal" kid in time to face the harsh world of school.
The interesting thing is that "The Scarlet Ibis" seems to be the only work Hurst is known for. So, there is precious little reliable information on him, and not much in the way of critical material available on this story. His obituary says "he wrote a play and short stories, some of which were published in literary magazines," and most of which you'll have some trouble tracking down. If you want to read more of Hurst's work, you're probably out of luck unless you plan on doing some serious detective work.
In fact, the most solid sources we have to go on in terms of biographical information are his obit and the brief bio published with this story in The Atlantic. Apparently, Hurst first studied chemical engineering, took a break for Army duty in WWII, and then later "studied singing at the Julliard School of Music in Rome." Hurst's career as an opera singer didn't pan out and he "settled down as a bank clerk at night and a writer by day."
What he did since and until his death at the age of 91 in 2013 is a big mystery. And he's probably okay with that. Check out this brief passage from his brief obituary:
When asked about the meaning of ["The Scarlet Ibis"], Hurst answered: "I hesitate to respond, since authors seldom understand what they write. That is why we have critics. I venture to say, however, that it comments on the tenacity and the splendor of the human spirit." A key passage form the story is the following sentence: I did not know then that pride is a wonderful, terrible, thing, a seed that bears two vines, life and death. (Source)
Until new information emerges, we'll just have to let Hurst remain a mystery man.
Here's a snippet of conversation from "The Scarlet Ibis":
"Do you want to be different from everybody else when you start school?"
"Does it make any difference?"
"It certainly does."
Here, an older brother is coaching his younger brother, who has physical disabilities, on how to fit in while in school. This story raises all sorts of important questions: Why is it that we sometimes fear people who are different? Why do many people think it's so important to fit in? If someone doesn't mind being different, why do we often still pressure them to conform? This story shows that pushing others too hard to fit in can end in tragedy.