The Scarlet Ibis Summary

The Scarlet Ibis by James Hurst


The short story "The Scarlet Ibis" by James Hurst takes place from around 1913 to 1918 in a small town in the south. The narrator, who begins the story at age six, focuses on his brother, whom the family calls Doodle. Doodle was born all shriveled up and everyone thought he would die. They didn't even want to name him, but at three month of age, when he was still alive, they finally called him William Armstrong. His mother feared that even if William continued to survive, he would never be fully functional.


The narrator didn't want to have an invalid brother, so he thought about taking a pillow and smothering him. However, at that moment, his brother smiled at him, and he decided there was still hope. By age two his brother started to crawl, but he often went backwards because it was easier, so his brother began calling him Doodle since he moved like a doodlebug, in reverse. Although he had learned to crawl, he showed no signs of walking, so his brother built a go-cart to push him around in. The doctor said they had to be careful with Doodle, treat him gently, make sure he was never too hot, too cold, too excited, or too tired.


The narrator would often take his brother to the swamp, so they could admire all the beautiful flowers. One day he took him to the barn and showed Doodle the small casket they had made for him when they thought he was going to die. He wanted Doodle to touch it, but he was afraid. When he still couldn't walk by age five, the narrator was so embarrassed that he decided to teach him. After a year of practice, he finally succeeded. They decided to reveal the new feat to the family on Doodle's sixth birthday. Doodle walked slowly across the room to the wonderment of the family. Unfortunately, the narrator was still ashamed to have a crippled brother.


During the winter Doodle suffered from a series of colds while his brother attended school. That summer Doodle seemed even more ill, not sleeping well. One day while the family was eating they noticed a bright red bird outside the window. Suddenly, it fell from the tree onto the ground; it had died. They looked in their bird book and discovered it was a scarlet ibis. Doodle wanted to bury it, so he dug a hole and put it in. Aunt Nicey thought dead birds signified bad luck.


The narrator then took Doodle off to woods because they wanted to keep making Doodle stronger so that he would be ready when school started. It was clear from their efforts that Doodle still wasn't ready. They heard a storm coming in, so the narrator began to run home. Doodle tried to follow him, but he couldn't keep up; he kept screaming for his brother not to leave him behind. The narrator heard but did not slow down. Finally, he stopped to wait for Doodle. When he didn't see him, he went in search of him.


He located Doodle huddled beneath a red nightshade bush beside the road. When he tried to lift him, his body flopped down onto the earth. He noticed blood on the front of Doodle's shirt. His brother cried and called his name, trying to shelter his little brother from the rain.





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