The Scarlet Ibis

The Scarlet Ibis Essay Questions

  1. 1

    How does pride feature into "The Scarlet Ibis?"

    Pride rules the narrator's decisions and actions in this story. The narrator acknowledges that his pride brings about both life and death—on one hand, pride is what drove him to teach Doodle how to walk, and that ended successfully. On the other, though, pride also caused him to push Doodle beyond his limits, leading to his death. A major theme in the story is the destructive effects of pride when it gets out of hand.

  2. 2

    Is the narrator to blame for Doodle's death? Why or why not?

    Based on the guilty tone of the story, the narrator feels he is to blame for his disabled brother's death. His pride and his constant pushing did, of course, have a hand in it, but there are many other reasons why Doodle died that do not involve the narrator at all. Doodle was expected to die from a very young age, so clearly his body was frail and fragile. It was impossible for the narrator to know exactly how much was too much, since Doodle had been able to learn to walk and looked like he could do anything he tried to. Where the blame falls in this unfortunate incident is a difficult question, but it was not simply the narrator's pride that caused this.

  3. 3

    Discuss the significance of the scarlet ibis in the story.

    The scarlet ibis is a powerful symbol for Doodle himself. Just like Doodle, the ibis has been battered and bruised and has exerted immense effort, in this case through a storm that drove it off course. Though it has been strong until this point, eventually it simply could not continue to fight on, and it gave in to death. At the end of the story, Doodle becomes the ibis in his brother's eyes; his limbs and neck seemingly elongate, and his blood stains him red like the ibis's feathers.

  4. 4

    How do the narrator's feelings towards Doodle change over time?

    At the beginning of the story, the narrator is visibly disappointed with his little brother. He had an image in his head of a brother who could run, play, and fight with him like a normal child, but instead he received a brother who was severely disabled to the point where he could not even walk. There are moments, though, when he does appear to appreciate his little brother; when they make flower jewelry in the Old Woman Swamp, for instance, or when they daydream about their futures. The narrator's response to Doodle's death at the end of the story shows that he has come to appreciate his brother for what he is, but he recognizes that he has taken this for granted for far too long.

  5. 5

    What role does Aunt Nicey serve in this story?

    Aunt Nicey seems like a minor character at first glance, but she actually serves an important role. From the beginning, Aunt Nicey is the only person who recognizes that Doodle's differences make him special, not a burden. She insists that babies born in cauls are sacred and unique, and must be treated as such. She also serves as a voice of warning, both directly by saying that red birds bring bad luck after the ibis dies, and indirectly by subtly reminding the narrator that Doodle is someone to be appreciated.

  6. 6

    What is one important message that "The Scarlet Ibis" relays to present-day children?

    Particularly at ages similar to Doodle's and the narrator's, children are often afraid and hostile to those who appear different. Someone like Doodle with a disability may be shunned simply because he is not like everyone else. The narrator in this story seems determined to make sure this does not happen by changing Doodle himself, rather than changing the faulty perceptions of everyone else. This story teaches children to accept differences, because in trying to conform to the crowd, sometimes we might go a little too far.

  7. 7

    Why is it important that Doodle died at the end of this story?

    Had Doodle survived, this story's message would not have been anywhere near as powerful. The narrator had to truly see the error of his ways at the end of the story, and if Doodle had not died, he would have continued to ignore the warning signs, push Doodle over and over again, and never truly learned a lesson. It is also important because everyone expected Doodle to die from the very beginning, but he exceeded his expectations; now, at last, what everyone was afraid of has actually happened.

  8. 8

    How does the framing as a retrospective affect the way readers interpret "The Scarlet Ibis"?

    Since the narrator is telling these events after they happened, he knows exactly what is to come at every moment, which adds to the tone of guilt and remorse prevalent in this work. It also heightens the sense of dramatic irony; the present narrator knows exactly what will happen, readers can guess early on what will happen, and yet the past narrator ignores the warning signs and has no idea what kind of consequences his foolish pride will bring.

  9. 9

    How is Doodle's birth name, William Armstrong, an element of foreshadowing?

    When Doodle is given the name William Armstrong, the narrator comments that such a name sounds good only on a tombstone. This is clear foreshadowing of the end of the story, as this name eventually will appear on his tombstone. Since this name is unsuitable, it also provides Doodle with the opportunity to earn his own name, something that most people do not have. He is eventually named based on the way he crawls, which is significant because crawling was never something his body should have been able to do in the first place.


  10. 10

    How is Doodle and the narrator's practice of "lying" significant?

    As a way of passing the time, Doodle and his older brother take up "lying," or making up outlandish stories and judging whose are better. Doodle is the better liar, and this is important because by lying, he is able to fabricate a reality more ideal than his own. Doodle is constantly trying to break through the boundaries set by his disability, and his adeptness at "lying" is another way he is able to do so.