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The Scarlet Ibis By James Hurst Essays

The Scarlet Ibis by James Hurst

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Dante Alighieri once said, "Avarice, envy, pride, three fatal sparks, have set the hearts of all on Fire." In the short story "The Scarlet Ibis" by James Hurst, it shows how pride can be beneficial in some ways, and harmful in other ways. The story starts out as the narrator of the story has a recollection of his past when his younger brother Doodle was still alive. The narrator tells how everyone believed Doodle is crippled mentally and physically. However, Doodle is a normal human being mentally, but has some difficulties physically. The narrator wants Doodle to become a "normal" boy, so he teaches him to practically all the activities any boy Doodle's age would do. One day, Doodle and the narrator were playing in the fields. A large storm came and both had to run home before it became too hard to handle. Doodle started running after his brother, but couldn't withstand it, and eventually, his stamina died down and had to rest. The narrator felt ticked off by Doodle and deserted him. A few minutes later, the narrator discovered Doodle under a tree, blood trickling from his mouth, dead. In the short story "The Scarlet Ibis" by James Hurst, it shows how pride can be beneficial in some ways, and harmful in other ways.

Pride of the narrator teaches a physically deprived little boy Doodle how to walk and gives him the same amenities as every other normal child. The pride of the narrator, "I [he] am going to teach Doodle how to walk" (170). Pride, in this instance, gives the narrator enough courage and vigor to help another human being in a positive way. The world needs more people such as the narrator, who is willing to benefit other's lives in a tenderhearted way, to make another's life better and happier. For example, "It's so pretty, so pretty, pretty, pretty" (170). One's pride can truly take the simple pleasures in life and make someone happy. The narrator does a simple task by taking his brother down to the swamp. By that action, Doodle is enthralled in happiness because he sees something he has never seen before. Having pride can be beneficial in many ways; however, having too much pride can be pernicious.

In the story, the narrator's pride sometimes takes him over and eventually kills his brother Doodle. At the end of the story, the narrator "…as I [He] lay sheltering my fallen scarlet ibis from the heresy of rain" (176).

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James Hurst         Scarlet Ibis         World Needs         Simple Pleasures         Dante Alighieri         Recollection         Narrator        

The narrator's carelessness and great amount of pride in himself as well as in Doodle ends up in the death of Doodle. The narrator feels his job is complete, and feels Doodle's need for assistance has come to an end. The choice the narrator makes in not helping Doodle run home is tragic, since a life could have been saved if the narrator had helped his brother. Another reason having too much pride can be harmful and destructive is "they did no 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" (173). The narrator's actions for teaching his brother to walk is supposedly to make it easier on himself by not having to drag his brother everywhere he goes, which is unfortunate because he isn't teaching Doodle for a positive cause. The brother's kind heart suddenly turned sour because his pride taught his brother to walk just for the benefit of himself (the narrator.) There is a large contrast between having pride and having too much pride; having some pride can be beneficial in some circumstances, but having too much pride can be hurtful.

Pride does have limitations: having pride to an extent is subsidiary, but having too much pride isn't; its harmful. Having too much pride can distract someone away from his or her main objective and often makes that person carried away. As shown in the story, the narrator's pride helped his brother Doodle walk; but the narrator's pride also killed his brother. A lesson to be learned is: pride goes to an extent. Don't overuse it. Like the saying goes, looks can be deceiving.

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.