The Scarlet Ibis

by

James Hurst

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Themes and Colors
Expectations and Disappointment Theme Icon
Pride Theme Icon
Death Theme Icon
Humans and Nature Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Scarlet Ibis, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Pride Theme Icon

Brother takes pride in Doodle’s achievements, and this sense of pride becomes a major motivation for his actions throughout “The Scarlet Ibis.” He gradually acknowledges that he only helps his brother out of a sense of pride, and that this pride leads him to behave selfishly. Other characters, such as Doodle’s parents, also find pride in Doodle’s accomplishments and hard work, spurring Doodle to work harder and harder to please his family. Hurst’s story points to both positive and negative effects that pride can have on people, but ultimately suggests that Doodle’s death was caused by the pride of those around him.

Brother sees Doodle as a reflection of himself, and therefore works hard to mitigate the sense of shame he feels about having a disabled brother. When Doodle is very young, Brother discovers that Doodle can smile and is aware of the people around him, and Brother feels relieved that he doesn’t have to live with a brother who isn’t “all there,” which he thinks would be “unbearable.” Thus, when he teaches Doodle to walk, he does so not out of a desire to improve Doodle’s life, but rather out of a desire to have a brother who is not different. Brother’s sense of pride is what initially motivates him to push Doodle to grow beyond the limitations of his disability—and, at least initially, this growth seems like a positive outcome associated with pride.

Doodle’s parents exhibit a different kind of pride from Brother. As Doodle makes progress, they express genuine pride in his accomplishments. Although they mean well, this expression of pride causes Doodle to push himself in unhealthy ways to win the love and approval of his family. The most joyful moment in the story occurs when Doodle and his brother show off that Doodle can walk, and his parents and Aunt are ecstatic that he has exceeded their expectations for him. However, this causes Brother to believe that he is “infallible,” and to push harder and harder on Doodle. Doodle follows along because he idolizes his brother and wants to continue to make his parents happy. Thus, his parent’s expression of pride in their son actually has a negative impact on him, as Hurst suggests that perhaps the catastrophe of Doodle’s death could have been avoided if they had simply been proud of their son for who he was rather than reinforcing the idea that they wanted him to be different.

Although Doodle’s thoughts go unspoken, he continues to work to make his brother proud, and Doodle’s brother in turn pushes him harder and harder. Brother describes many episodes in which Doodle collapses out of exhaustion. In the story’s final moments, after Doodle has disappointed his Brother in their swimming and rowing lesson, they wordlessly turn back to the house and Doodle continues to look at his brother, “watching for a sign of mercy.” However, instead of showing his brother compassion, Brother simply wonders, “what are the words that can solder cracked pride,” and races ahead of Doodle in the approaching storm, inadvertently dooming Doodle to death as he does so. Thus, it is not Doodle’s disability which ultimately causes his death, but rather the fact that Brother, in his pride, could not accept Doodle’s failure to be a normal boy. In this way, what began as the family’s innocent desire to help Doodle lead a more fulfilling life becomes poisoned by Brother’s pride and self-interest when he pushes Doodle past his limits. With this story, Hurst shows that even though pride can sometimes be positive, when it is borne out of selfishness it is a force of destruction.

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Pride ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Pride appears in each chapter of The Scarlet Ibis. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Pride Quotes in The Scarlet Ibis

Below you will find the important quotes in The Scarlet Ibis related to the theme of Pride.
The Scarlet Ibis Quotes

It seemed so hopeless from the beginning that it's a miracle I didn't give up. But all of us must have something or someone to be proud of, and Doodle had become mine. I did not know then that pride is a wonderful, terrible thing, a seed that bears two vines, life and death.

Related Characters: Brother (speaker), Doodle
Page Number: 22
Explanation and Analysis:

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.

Related Characters: Brother (speaker), Doodle, Doodle’s parents, Aunt Nicey
Page Number: 23
Explanation and Analysis:

He had failed and we both knew it, so we started back home, racing the storm. We never spoke (What are the words that can solder cracked pride?), but I knew he was watching me, watching for a sign of mercy.

Related Characters: Brother (speaker), Doodle
Related Symbols: The Storm
Page Number: 28
Explanation and Analysis:

I screamed above the pounding storm and threw my body to the earth above his. For a long time, it seemed forever, I lay there crying, sheltering my fallen scarlet ibis from the heresy of rain.

Related Characters: Brother (speaker), Doodle
Related Symbols: The Scarlet Ibis, The Storm
Page Number: 32
Explanation and Analysis: