Theme of Bias in “The Scarlet Ibis” by James Hurst
Theme of Bias in “The Scarlet Ibis” by James Hurst
Acceptance of an individual is important regardless of disabilities and other disadvantages. This idea is perfectly presented in James Hurst’s short story, “The Scarlet Ibis.” In the story, it is introduced that the narrator’s brother, Doodle, is born with an ailing condition, but unexpectedly survives. However, his luck goes just as far when misfortune intervenes as he is diagnosed with serious health problems and is disabled. In Doodle’s childhood, the narrator – embarrassed by his brother’s odd conditions – seeks to transform him into someone who can be recognized without his incapability. However, in the end, this behavior physically affects Doodle which lead to his demise. In his work, Hurst portrays the dangers of forcing an individual to conform to society’s standards.
In the “Scarlet Ibis,” the narrator cannot approve the fact that Doodle is not normal like everyone else. During Doodle’s toddler years, the boy feels disappointment because Doodle wasn’t capable of accomplishing brotherly conventions. He proves this when he states that he “wants more than anything else someone to race to Horsehead Landing, someone to box with, and someone to perch with in the top fork of the great pine” (595). This section shows how the boy longs for a brother who can play and interact with him like other people’s siblings. Also, he views Doodle as an inferior individual in which he cannot accept. Therefore, when the boy’s brother is named William Armstrong, the boy decides to rename him Doodle. He claims that “renaming my brother was perhaps the best thing I ever did for him, because nobody expects much from someone names Doodle” (596).
In the boy’s opinion, Doodle could not live up to such a superior label; consequently, he gives his brother a name that reflects low standards and expectations. In addition, the boy considers Doodle to be inferior because he became a burden. The narrator loathes how he has to be responsible of his onerous brother. While bring with Doodle, “a long list of don’ts” (596) had to be kept in mind; for example, not to make him too excited, keeping his temperature right and treating him gently with care. The boy is strained that he has to take notice of such conditions of his brother. Due to Doodle’s abnormality, the boy constantly tries to change Doodle to live up to the typical person he sees in society.
In the “Scarlet Ibis,” the narrator’s feeling of embarrassment about his confined brother creates a motivation for improving Doodle’s physical state, but at the same time, damaging his health. When Doodle survives everyone’s doubts about his living, his brother finds a way to push Doodle’s physical limit to make him more of the brother he have in mind. In order to preserve his pride, the boy forces Doodle to learn how to walk. Even though the narrator acknowledges that pressuring his disabled brother to become mobile is injuring him, he nevertheless persists to in order to prevent further humiliation of having a five-year-old brother who cannot walk. However, Doodle’s ability to walk is not enough to satisfy the narrator. After Doodle becomes mobile, the boy aims to make him into a normal person so he can attend school like everyone else.
When Doodle succeeded in walking, the boy wants to “teach him how to run, to swim, to climb trees, and to fight” (599). Even though Doodle has thrived the in the boy’s previous plans, the boy is still not pleased with Doodle’s advancement towards society’s standards. Moreover, even when Doodle got sick and interfered with the plan’s progress, the boy did not give up on changing him and preparing him for school. He believes that it is a definite thing for Doodle to be able to attend school and live his life like everyone else when he states the “success lay at the end of summer like a pot of gold” (599).
Owning to the boy’s determined goal and his refusal to admit that Doodle has a disability, he does not recognize failure or the possibility that Doodle cannot function as normal people do. For this reason, he feels angry when Doodle wasn’t able to run, swim, fight and climb trees like he had planned. As a result, the boy runs away from Doodle, abandoning him when Doodle tries to approach him. The boy does not understand or appreciate Doodle’s intention of becoming what he wanted, but blames him for not being able to become ordinary. Even though Doodle was “watching for a sign of mercy” (604) and yelling “brother, brother, don’t leave me! Don’t leave me!” (604) when he had fallen down, the boy can only comprehend how much of his pride is hurt. Persuaded by his egoism, the narrator pushes his brother to such an extreme that lead to Doodle’s death.
Even at the end, the narrator still does not acknowledge the qualities Doodle had processed. To make time pass, Doodle would tell tales full of imagination to the narrator while the narrator told “scary, involved, and usually pointless” (599) tales. An example of the bright tales was about “about named Peter who had a peacock with a ten-foot tail. Peter wore a robe that glittered so brightly that when he walked through the sunflowers they turned away from the sun to face him.” From the stories, you can tell that Doodle is a very pure and innocent boy living under the influence of his brother’s dark tales, causing Doodle’s creativity to me destroyed. Hurst also uses a very important element, the scarlet ibis, to compare emphasize and represent Doodle. When the narrator brought Doodle to the beautiful Old Woman Swamp, Doodle starts to cry.
Annoyed by the tears, the narrator asks why and Doodle replies that the scene is “so pretty, pretty, pretty” (597). This shows how sensitive and fragile he is towards his surroundings. Although the narrator sees this as an irritation, Doodle’s sensitivity is very moving as he captures the best out of everything, just like the ibis. Another similarity between the bird and Doodle is their place in the world. The scarlet ibis, a tropical bird in South America is brought by a storm to the family’s yard beneath the “bleeding tree” (602). This ibis is supposedly to be free and wild in the natural world but yet, it results in the yard that is owned and is criticized that it may have a disease.
In the “Scarlet ibis,” the boy’s refusal to accept an individual result in the destruction of his brother, in the story, the efforts of Doodle’s brother to change Doodle are only to preserve his pride. Even though it did motivate the boy’s brother to improve physically, the arrangement results in the death of Doodle. In this story, the topic of tolerance and acceptance is stressed reminding us that a person cannot be contrived to become more similar to the social order.
University/College: University of Arkansas System
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 4 November 2016
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