The Scarlet Ibis
by James Hurst
Daddy is a cotton farmer, and he seems kind, loving, and even more serious than Mama. One might even call him grave. One of the first things we hear about him is that he bought Doodle a coffin when before Doodle was even two months old. What kind of father, you might be asking, does that?
Well, in the early 1900s in the US, this was probably not so unusual. Not to be crass, but coffin sales were up in the early 1900s, including kid-sized ones. Infant mortality rates were high (source). If the doctor tells you your child has a weak heart and isn't going to live, you would buy a coffin, at least back then. Surely, this is not an easy moment for Daddy. Imagine how powerless he must have felt when he heard the doctor's prediction. Perhaps buying a coffin was the only thing he thought he could do for his son. It does seem rather pessimistic, but it shows that he wants to prepare for his son's death with as much dignity as possible.
As we said, Daddy seems like a nice man. Like Mama, he's mysterious and doesn't seem to play a huge role in the story. He's not the focus of the story. He seems to treat the people around him with respect and dignity. Like Mama, he does a complete turnaround in terms of Doodle. He goes from thinking Doodle will die before he has a chance to live, to seeing him as almost too normal. He seems interested in his son's lives, and very present, but he too misses the fact that Doodle is going down the tubes from overexertion. This might have something to do with his own extreme toughness. Check out this next passage. It's a description of Daddy after the hurricane. Brother and Doodle are worried that their father is distraught over the damage to his cotton crop.
Suddenly Daddy straightened his shoulders, raised a giant knuckly fist, and with a voice that seemed to rumble out of the earth itself began cursing heaven, hell, the weather, and the Republican party, (4.3)
A real Mr. Tough-Guy. Yet, we know by the giggles his speech provokes in Doodle and Brother that he's a soft on the inside. But, on the outside he's like Brother, intensely physical with a high endurance level. We don't want to make excuses for the fact that he doesn't notice Brother is taking things too far. But, we can see how it happened. Like Brother, Daddy is probably haunted by memories of what he could have done differently.