"He was born when I was six and was, from the outset, a disappointment."
This quote, found at the beginning of the story, alerts readers to the narrator's original expectations for his little brother. The narrator wanted a brother who would be able to run and play with him, so the reality of Doodle's condition hits him hard. It is this disappointment that leads him to push Doodle as hard as he possibly can while teaching him to walk and do other activities, since his pride cannot handle the disparity between the brother he wanted and the brother he got.
"Everybody thought he was going to die—everybody except Aunt Nicey, who had delivered him. She said he would live because he was born in a caul, and cauls were made from Jesus's nightgown."
This quote is the very beginning of the juxtaposition of Aunt Nicey with the rest of the family, which has low expectations for Doodle. Right from the start Aunt Nicey believed that Doodle's differences made him important and special; while everyone else saw it as an unfortunate burden, Aunt Nicey serves as a reminder that "different" can be good, while the narrator believes that "different" is something that should be avoided.
"Such a name sounds good only on a tombstone."
In discussing the name given to Doodle three months after his birth—William Armstrong—the narrator incorporates some very obvious foreshadowing. As readers know upon finishing the story, this name will appear on a tombstone, when Doodle ultimately dies. This is also significant because at numerous points in the story, everyone expects Doodle will die, but he continues to defy these expectations until at last he dies when no one is anticipating it.
"Renaming my brother was perhaps the kindest thing I ever did for him, because nobody expects much from someone called Doodle."
This quote goes along with the story's theme of expectations. Up until this point, Doodle has been exceeding everyone's expectations, since he lived when everyone expected him to die. This quote foreshadows a time in which Doodle will fall short of expectations. Since the narrator is speaking about events in his past, he knows that, in light of what will occur, it is better that people not expect much from Doodle. The "kindest thing I ever did for him" part of the quote also suggests that the narrator was not particularly kind to Doodle throughout his short life, and that he might regret not being kinder.
Doodle says these words twice throughout the story, the first when the narrator threatens to walk away and leave him alone in the barn with his casket, and again at the end when the narrator begins to rush ahead in the storm, leaving Doodle behind. This quote emphasizes Doodle's dependency on his older brother—he simply cannot function without him—and also his idolizing view of him. It also sets the narrator up to make a choice. The first time, he stays with Doodle until Doodle does what he asks and touches the coffin. He does not leave. The second time, he does leave, and that seals Doodle's fate.
"But all of us must have something 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.
With this quote, the narrator looks back on the events of the past with the wisdom that he has only acquired after the fact. He knew back then that he had to do something to make Doodle a brother to be proud of, but he did not know the disastrous effects that his pride would have until it was too late. It is important to note the narrator's acute awareness of his pride; he is not in denial about his motivations behind pushing Doodle to walk, which makes the ultimate consequences even more wrenching. He was aware of his pride, and yet he did nothing to stop it.
"Yes, I must admit it. Doodle could beat me lying."
It is telling enough that the narrator and Doodle spend their spare time "lying," or telling outlandish stories, but it is even more noteworthy that Doodle is the better of the two liars. These elaborate lies, like the story of Peter and the peacock that the narrator recounts, are a means by which Doodle distracts himself from his less-than-satisfactory reality. This goes hand-in-hand with his immense appreciation for all things beautiful; these lies account for the things that Doodle feels his life is lacking.
"Aw, come on, Doodle. You can do it. Do you want to be different from everybody else when you start school?"
Doodle's disabilities undoubtedly make him different from the average person, but this story questions whether these differences even matter. To the narrator, they do; he is very concerned with molding Doodle to the image in his head of the perfect little brother. Doodle, though, does not see things the way his older brother sees them. Right after the narrator says this, Doodle asks whether it even makes a difference. The narrator insists that it does, and continues to push him right past his breaking point in the interest of conformity.
"I'm going to bury him."
Upon watching the scarlet ibis die, Doodle forms a strong connection with the bird. The ibis's death and Doodle's response to it is the most impactful piece of foreshadowing in the story. Doodle has connected with the scarlet ibis because he is the scarlet ibis, worn down and pushed beyond his limits. This response also fits very well with Doodle's character; he has an eye for beauty, and, according to the narrator, the ibis is majestic and beautiful even in death.
"For a long time, it seemed forever, I lay there crying, sheltering my scarlet ibis from the heresy of rain."
This carefully crafted line ends the story. The narrator at last recognizes the harm that his pride has brought about, and, upon connecting him to the fallen scarlet ibis, finally treats him with the fragility and care that had been missing all along. This moment is not about the narrator protecting himself; it is about protecting Doodle, who unfortunately would have benefited from this protection long ago.
The Scarlet Ibis Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for The Scarlet Ibis is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
By the time I had done this Doodle had excused himself and had slipped out into the yard. He was looking up into the bleeding tree. "It's a great big red bird!" he called. The bird croaked loudly again, and Mama and Daddy came out...