The Scarlet Ibis
by James Hurst
Analysis: Booker's Seven Basic Plots Analysis
Christopher Booker is a scholar who wrote that every story falls into one of seven basic plot structures: Overcoming the Monster, Rags to Riches, the Quest, Voyage and Return, Comedy, Tragedy, and Rebirth. Shmoop explores which of these structures fits this story like Cinderella’s slipper.
Plot Type : Tragedy
Brother decides to teach Doodle to walk.
Brother's anticipation stage begins when Doodle is born. Doodle doesn't quite meet Brother's expectations of what a brother should be like. He wants somebody to join him in running and romping around the countryside in an extremely athletic fashion. The problem is that Doodle might not even be able to walk, much less run join Brother in his athletic romping. So, when Doodle is five and still can't walk, Brother decides to teach him how. Doodle becomes Brother's main focus and a means to possible fulfillment.
In this stage the hero "becomes committed to his course of action" and things seems to be going the way he wants them to. Doodle's birthday scene is the climax, or big exciting moment, of the Dream Stage. The time before the birthday, when Doodle is learning to walk, isn't completely dreamy. But, the boys are getting to know each other and seem to be getting along well enough, even though Brother is a tough teacher. The rest of the summer after the birthday party sounds pretty wonderful for the brothers. They hang out at Old Woman Swamp, telling stories and enjoying nature. They're living it up. But, the shadows of brother's shame and pride foreshadow the Nightmare Stage.
The scarlet ibis dies.
Brother's Frustration Stage begins after he decides to turn Doodle into an athlete, in preparation for his entrance to school. The frustration begins almost immediately. Time seems to be moving much too fast. During the winter either Brother is busy with his own schooling, or Doodle is sick. The summer just isn't long enough, and Doodle can only learn so much. When summer comes to an end, with school looming just around the bend, Doodle hasn't learned half of what Brother wants him to learn. But, Brother continues to push Doodle too hard. The ibis that appears and dies just before the boys head out for the final lesson can be seen as a warning to be careful – but, of course, Brother doesn't realize it at the time.
Brother can't stop.
Booker says that in this stage, "things are now slipping seriously out of the hero's control." Even before the appearance of the ibis in the Frustration Stage, this is true of Brother. He knows he's pushing Doodle so hard he's having nightmares, but he doesn't let up. For Doodle the whole ordeal seems like a nightmare. When Brother makes Doodle row back to the landing during the storm, the real nightmare is just beginning for them both.
Destruction or Death Wish Stage
Brother runs and leaves Doodle alone. Doodle dies.
In this stage the hero does something that either destroys himself, or someone close to him. Since Brother is just a confused kid when all this goes down, we have to give him a break here, even if he doesn't give himself one. He wasn't intentionally trying to kill Doodle – he was trying to save them both from the harsh realities of school. When he runs, it is mean, and he should have known better, but perhaps he alone does not destroy his brother. In remembering the horrible day of Doodle's death, Brother puts all the blame on himself. It's up to each reader to decide if he's being too hard on himself or not. To get at the decision we might ask what roles Mama, Daddy, the doctor, and the community at large might have played in driving Brother to push Doodle too hard.