Scarlet Ibis Essay

Topics: Literary criticism, Short story, James Hurst Pages: 6 (902 words) Published: March 3, 2008
There is a saying that frankly states Only the good die young. Of course, this observation

is not quite literal, as many moral individuals live long and happy lives. Consider, however, the

notion that perhaps the innocence of youth crumbles, jaded, before a chance is truly given to

mature. The loss of innocence and the youthful sins of pride, overconfidence, and infallibility

manifest within the narrator, Brother, in James Hurst's short story "The Scarlet Ibis". This

develops into the central theme after the narrator experiences the tragic death of his handicapped

brother because of his own doing.

Brother laments, "For a long time, it seemed forever, I lay there crying, sheltering my

fallen scarlet ibis from the heresy of rain." (Hurst 6). The dispiriting imagery conjured by the

words above convey a sense of loss of self as well as the loss of another. Hurst foreshadows this

loss (intangibly sometimes) throughout the short story: "The last graveyard flowers were

blooming..." (Hurst 1) and "Such a name sounds good only on a tombstone." (Hurst 1) are two

instances on the first page. New Criticism or [Formalism] suggests that one should pull from the

story the "universal truths" "Through 'isolated' and 'objective reading'..." (AASU Writing

Center 1) the underlying universal truth in "The Scarlet Ibis" is simply that pride will carefully

tear one's world apart, rendering the proud emotionally wrought. As well, the victim of pride

can not be excluded, as Doodle's life and death is a literal transliteration of the saying because he

was a physically handicapped child who's life ended as a result of being abandoned by his older

brother. The narrator woefully proclaims, "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." (Hurst 3).

Regrettably, James Hurst did not garner the prestige necessary to attract the attention of

literary critics and scholars alike, his later works were still overshadowed by "The Scarlet Ibis"

and there are no academic criticisms related to the story. However, the story remains popular in

the classroom and many student/teacher critiques are available via the internet to be used as

teaching material. From the perspective of poisoning pride, Claire Robinson reminds the reader

that "Brother, too, in spite of his obsession with having a sibling who will not limit him or hold

him back in his activities, also puts Doodle into a box of sorts. He claims that "Renaming my

brother was perhaps the kindest thing I ever did for him, because nobody expects much from

someone called Doodle. Brother's act in renaming his brother seems anything but kind. It is as

limiting and dismissive as the family's determination that Doodle will die soon after birth."

(Robinson 1). Giving his younger brother a nickname seems like an affectionate welcoming, but

Brother's intent was to lower the general expectations of Doodle by bestowing him with a slyly

derogatory nickname.

As another central theme to the story, Christianity is used to either subtly compare the

handicapped Doodle to Christ or to show similarities between some of Brother's actions and

Christ. Allusions to the Resurrection, "...if we produced anything less than the Resurrection, she

was going to be disappointed." (Hurst 3) and "... he would live because he was born in a caul,

and caul's were made of Jesus' nightgown." (Hurst 1). The miracle of Doodle surviving his first

three years of life is certainly awe inspiring, but somehow Brother's selfish ambitions to

transform Doodle into a normal boy seems a more challenging undertaking. Brother proudly

boasts, "I would teach him to run, to swim, to climb trees, and to fight. He... believed in...
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