Power: to Use or to Abuse (The Scarlet Ibis by James Hurst Analysis)
In the short story, “The Scarlet Ibis” by James Hurst, an older brother’s longing for power
takes a toll on the relationship between two siblings. The impact of his cruel actions results in the plummeting health of his younger brother. While other factors play into their flawed relationship, the struggle for power between them is the most impactful.
Taking full advantage of his younger brother’s longing to please him, the self-centered older brother goes to extreme lengths to seize his power. The narrator is embarrassed of having a younger sibling who cannot walk, so he compromises his innocent brother’s health to content his obsessive need to satisfy his ego. Knowing of his brother’s strenuous efforts, the narrator maintains, “Occasionally I too became discouraged because it didn’t seem as if he was trying, and I would say, ‘Doodle, don’t you want to learn to walk?” (Hurst 5). This example of the power-hungry sibling’s need for control is significant at this point in the story because it reveals the difference in power between the two brothers. Doodle has unconditional love for his older brother, and would gladly put his needs above his own, even if doing so puts his life in jeopardy. The tyrannical narrator notices this and uses his innocent brother’s kindness to his advantage. The self-sacrificing boy willingly surrenders his choices to bring his manipulative brother joy; Doodle’s happiness comes from the satisfaction of his sibling’s hubris.
Against Doodle’s explicit wishes, the cruel narrator abuses the power given to him by his altruistic sibling. When Doodle is unable to meet the unrealistic expectations in being the ideal brother, he seeks to please his brother in other ways. Taking vengeance upon him, the self-satisfying narrator forces him to experience the reality of his health concerns. In an attempt to rid himself of the burden brought upon him by his invalid sibling, the malevolent narrator threatens Doodle into touching his own casket. Aware of his devoted sibling’s attachment to him, the narrator notes,“Doodle was frightened of being left ‘Don’t leave me, Brother,’ he cried...when he touched the casket, he screamed” (Hurst 4). This example of cruelty is significant at this point because it contrasts from Doodle’s positive opinion of his older brother. Disregarding the unconditional love of his selfless sibling, the horrible brother succumbs to his need to have control. The narrator despises the fact that his younger brother cannot match up to his standards, so he seeks vengeance for something out of Doodle’s hands. The burden placed upon him by Doodle, regulates his flawed sense of self. Their relationship is greatly affected by the cruel brother’s abuse of power.
Deliberately ignoring Doodle’s decaying health, the narrator persists in pushing him past his physical limits. As school looms nearer, the older brother realizes that he has not accomplished what he set out to do, make Doodle a normal boy. Embarrassed of having a physically compromised brother, the inconsiderate boy continues to make him suffer to reach his standards. He forces the invalid child to complete physically-demanding tasks, none of which he has the assets to endure. Even with the knowledge that his brother cannot physically withstand these activities, the narrator admits,“I made him swim till he turned blue and row until he couldn’t lift an oar. Wherever we went I purposefully walked fast, and although he kept up, his face turned red and his eyes became glazed” (Hurst 8). This example of Doodle’s powerlessness in their relationship exposes the harsh reality of his difficult life. The young boy has always wanted to make his brother proud; He is motivated to overcome any obstacles that he faces in his path for acceptance. He has no choice but to obey his brother’s commands and endure the hardships that come with his disability. As much as Doodle tries to convey his concerns, the oppressive sibling ignores all of the warning signs. The continuous ignorance of the older brother is steadily decreasing Doodle’s wellbeing.
Many factors affect their relationship, but ultimately the struggle for power provided this impact. Power, when balanced correctly, can make or break a connection. The struggle for power is not a lighthearted fight, it is one that destroys relationships, much like it demolished the bond between two brothers.