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The Scarlet Ibis

The Scarlet Ibis

by James Hurst

Memory and the Past Theme

"The Scarlet Ibis" is the story of a boy, Brother, who accidentally contributes to the death of his younger brother, Doodle. Brother tells the story in the past tense, and explicitly states that it's a memory of something that happened in his past. Memories of his time with Doodle are sometimes sweet, and sometimes excruciatingly painful, at least for the reader. We hold Brother's hand on his perilous trek down memory lane. At times we think he's driving himself mad with memory. That he lives in the past, ruled by mistakes he can't change. On a happier note, we also explore the possibility that memory can be used to understand and cope with the moments in our life that hurt, but that that we don't ever want to forget.

Questions About Memory and the Past

  1. How would "The Scarlet Ibis" be different if Brother narrated it as events were happening, instead of telling the story many years later?
  2. How do you deal with painful memories, if you have them? Does this story offer any advice for dealing with painful memories? If so, what?
  3. What are some of the nice things Brother remembers doing for Doodle? Does Brother think they are nice? How can you tell?
  4. Is it significant that most of the story is set during World War I? Why or why not?
  5. Would it make a difference if we knew how much time has passed since Doodle died? Why or why not?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

The references to Word War I are important because they connect Doodle's death to the death of young men in the war.

"The Scarlet Ibis" argues that memory is a tool that can be used to help a person cope with painful experiences.

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