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The Scarlet Ibis

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Story Summary


The Scarlet Ibis is about the relationship between two brothers. The narrator is the older brother and Doodle is the younger brother. It is set on a farm in the South around 1918 (the year that WWI ended) and begins in early fall. When the narrator was six, his brother was born in a caul. Nobody expected him to live; they even had a coffin built for him. After a few months, they decided to name him William Armstrong, a name that would only look good on a gravestone.


 The narrator quickly realized that his brother wasn’t ever going to be “all there” and made plans to smother him, his disappointment was so unbearable. However, one afternoon, William looked straight at him and grinned, the narrator was ecstatic!


 When William was two, he began to move around. At first he would simply struggle to turn to his back, but gradually he began crawling. Because he couldn’t change directions easily, he would just back up to where he wanted to go. The narrator thought this made him look like a doodlebug, and because Doodle is a very informal name, not much would be expected out of him. So, the nickname stuck.


The narrator started becoming annoyed with Doodle, he felt it was a hassle to take Doodle around in a wagon everywhere he went and he had to be very careful to not put extra strain on his weak body. When the narrator finally realized that Doodle was his brother, and it was his job to take care of him, he wanted to share something truly beautiful with him, Old Woman Swamp. They’d gather wildflowers, weave crowns, and necklaces, and enjoy the calmness of the swamp.


 Even though the narrator was kind to Doodle he was still mean sometimes. One day, he took Doodle to his coffin in the barn and forced him to touch it. Doodle kept saying, “Don’t leave me brother.”


 Even when Doodle was five, he couldn’t walk. The narrator was embarrassed by this and made it his goal to teach him. From the very beginning it seemed like there was no chance, the narrator would lift Doodle up and Doodle would crumble onto the ground. They were so determined, though, they would try it over and over, at least one hundred times every day.


When Doodle first began to stand by himself, they were both so excited. They waited until one morning, during breakfast and Doodle slowly walked  across the room. The entire family was crying, but the narrator felt ashamed that he had only taught Doodle out of his own embarrassment.


The narrator decided that he would also teach Doodle to run, swim, climb trees, and more. He wanted Doodle to be able to go to school with him and be normal like the other children.


 During the winter, they couldn’t practice much, Doodle had a horrible cold on and off throughout the season. When spring came around, though, they were filled with hope again. The narrator began to teach Doodle to swim and row a boat, with very slow progress.


When school time was quickly approaching, the brothers knew that there was little hope that Doodle could go to school. He could hardly get off the ground when climbing, and his swimming was mediocre. But they were not ready to give up. Doodle was pushed to his limit, trying to reach the goal. The narrator pushed him so hard whenever possible. He didn’t want Doodle to be different from the other kids.


  With just a few days before school, the family was eating lunch when Doodle noticed a big red bird on a tree. The bird looked to be very sick, it’s feathers were falling out, it was making croaking noises, and it looked very tired. All of a sudden, the bird fell to the ground and it looked broken as it fell. When the bird landed, it was still. They determined that the bird was a Scarlet Ibis and that a storm must have brought it to their yard. Doodle was very sad and decided to bury the bird to give it a proper memorial.


 The narrator and Doodle went down to Horsehead Landing to practice some more. Doodle was forced to paddle against the tide. They began to notice some storm clouds covering the sky and there was thunder and lightning. Doodle was scared, so the narrator decided they would head home.

The narrator knew that they had failed, it was too late for Doodle to go to school, but he wanted to give it one last chance. He began walking fast, Doodle couldn’t keep up, and again cried, “Brother, Brother, don’t leave me!” The narrator felt a surge of bitterness and cruelty. He ran as fast as he could, until he could no longer hear Doodle. When he became tired, he slowed down to wait for Doodle, but he never came. As he went back, he found Doodle, his face covered by his arms. Doodle wouldn’t answer. The narrator began crying and, “For a long, long time, it seemed forever, I lay there crying, sheltering my fallen scarlet ibis from the heresy of rain.”

Ms. Kuhn's Rage Against the Irony Discussion Group