The Scarlet Ibis
by James Hurst
The Scarlet Ibis Introduction
In A Nutshell
"The Scarlet Ibis" is a short story by American author James Hurst. It was first published in 1960 in The Atlantic Monthly. After that it found its way into middle and high school anthologies, and is frequently taught today. "The Scarlet Ibis" is a troubling tale of two brothers. One brother, called Doodle, has physical disabilities and serious health problems. The other brother, known only as Brother, is desperate to turn Doodle into a "normal" kid in time to face the harsh world of school.
The interesting thing is that "The Scarlet Ibis" is Hurst's only known work. If you want to read more of his work, you're probably out of luck unless you plan on doing some serious detective work. What's more, Hurst doesn't seem to be well-known for anything else either. So, there is precious little reliable information on him, and not much in the way of critical material available on this story.
The most solid thing we have to go on in terms of biographical information is the brief bio published with this story in The Atlantic. Apparently Hurst first studied chemical engineering, and then later "studied singing at the Julliard School of Music in Rome." Hurst's career as an opera singer didn't pan out and he "settled down as a bank clerk at night and a writer by day."
What he's been doing since then is a big mystery. We don't know for sure if he's dead or alive, or if he is alive, what he's up to now. Mr. Hurst, if you read this, drop us a line, at least just to say "hey." Until then, or until new information emerges, we'll just have to let Hurst remain a mystery man.
Why Should I Care?
Here's a snippet of conversation from "The Scarlet Ibis":
"Do you want to be different from everybody else when you start school?"
"Does it make any difference?"
"It certainly does."
Here, an older brother is coaching his younger brother, who has physical disabilities, on how to fit in while in school. This story raises all sorts of important questions: Why is it that we sometimes fear people who are different? Why do many people think it's so important to fit in? If someone doesn't mind being different, why do we often still pressure them to conform? This story shows that pushing others too hard to fit in can end in tragedy.