Thursday, October 29, 2009

Halloween in the English Department

Every year, for the last four years, the English department has all dressed up as characters from literature (generally a 9th grade book, since us 9th grade teachers usually direct everyone else). We have a fun time with it, running into classrooms with goofily planned skits, and give the first kid to get all the roles correct a prize. Here are my roles, through the years.

2006: Jem in To Kill a Mockingbird

2007: Cyclops in The Odyssey
2008: Romeo in Romeo and Juliet
2009: The narrator in "The Scarlet Ibis"

So, this year, I play a teenage kid who has internal turmoil because he's embarassed because his brother is handicapped. He ends up running away from his brother during a storm, during which lightning hits his little brother, killing him. That's just a few hours after the whole family had found a displaced scarlet ibis in their front yard, who promptly dies in front of them. Doodle (the little brother) had felt a strange connection to the bird, and buried him. Within a few hours, he himself is dead. The symbolism blares like neon lights, but the story is still deeply affecting - one of the saddest you'll ever read. We'll camp it up though.


A BCPSS Parent said...

I read The Scarlet Ibis last year when my high school student read it. Very sad story. Plus having a disabled child and two "neurotypicals"... What can I say, it had me crying.

Anonymous said...

It's such a sad, sad story.


Mr. B-G said...

Doodle actually doesn't get struck by lightening. Read it closely, again, to see how he really dies.

Epiphany in Baltimore said...

I've read it 20 times, and that, I think, is the most logical conclusion. Just re-read, but I still think our interpretation is right. What do you think happened to him?

Anonymous said...

I guess another interpretation would be that he had a heart attack or died of exhaustion or something, but that wouldn't explain the bleeding from the mouth.

Here's the end of the story:

I helped him up, and as he wiped the mud off his trousers, he smiled at me ashamedly. He had failed and we both knew it, so we started back home, racing the storm. We never spoke (What are the words that can solder cracked
pride?), but I knew he was watching me, watching for a sign of mercy. The lightning was near now, and from fear he walked so close behind me he kept stepping on my heels. The faster I walked, the faster he walked, so I began to run. The rain was coming, roaring through the pines, and then, like a bursting Roman candle, a gum tree ahead of us was shattered by a bold of lightning. When the deafening peal of thunder had died, and in the moment before the rain arrived, I heard Doodle, who had fallen behind, cry out, "Brother, Brother, don't leave me! Don't leave me!"

The knowledge that Doodle's and my plans had come to naught was bitter, and that streak of cruelty within me awakened. I ran as fast as I could, leaving him far behind with a wall of rain dividing us. The drops stung my face like nettles, and the wind flared the wet glistening leaves of the bordering trees. Soon I could hear his voice no more.

I hadn’t run too far before I became tired, and the flood of childish spite evanesced as well. I stopped and waited for Doodle. The sound of rain was everywhere, but the wind had died and it fell straight down in parallel paths like ropes hanging from the sky. As I waited, I peered through the downpour, but no one came. Finally I went back and found him huddled beneath a red nightshade bush beside the road. He was sitting on the ground, his face buried in his arms, which were resting on his drawn-up knees. "Let's go, Doodle," I said.

He didn't answer, so I placed my hand on his forehead and lifted his head. Limply, he fell backwards onto the earth. He had been bleeding from the mouth, and his neck and the front of his shirt were stained a brilliant red.
"Doodle! Doodle!" I cried, shaking him, but there was no answer but the ropy rain. He lay very awkwardly, with his head thrown far back, making his vermilion8 neck appear unusually long and slim. His little legs, bent sharply at the knees, had never before seemed so fragile, so thin.
I began to weep, and the tear-blurred vision in red before me looked very familiar. "Doodle!" I screamed above the pounding storm and threw my body to the earth above his. For a long time, it seemed forever, I lay there crying, sheltering my fallen scarlet ibis from the heresy of rain.

Mr. B-G said...

I think it's most likely that he died from internal hemorrhaging. This would fit given all the references to him being fragile, and given the fact that he had just over-exerted himself running after his own brother.

He drowned in his own blood.

Epiphany in Baltimore said...

How interesting.

I think there's a lot of foreshadowing that it was lightning (the Roman candle reference, "the lightning was near now"), but it could have been any number of things. Re-reading the last paragraph and the description of the neck, he could have broke his neck somehow, too. Or burst lung. I'm not sure. I remember a few years ago I taught it and thought it was a heart attack, until a student convinced me that all the mentions of lightning beforehand suggest it was lightning, and I figured that lightning strking would make someone bleed from the mouth.

Oh well, we weren't intended to know for sure what it was.

A BCPSS Parent said...

Not that I'm an English major or anything, but lightening strikes usually cause burns and not hemorrhaging. Also, I think it's more significant and moving that his death was caused by his disability rather than an "act of god" lightening strike. I figured the blood on his neck was not from it breaking, but from a lot of blood coming out of his neck.

A BCPSS Parent said...

blood coming out of his mouth, not neck - too rushed this am.

Mr. B-G said...

Good point about the lightening BCPSS. I agree. It would be more fitting that Doodle's disability was his downfall... and really, his brother was a jerk for taking off and leaving him alone.

Doodle's brother forced him to overexert himself. Doodle's brother should feel guilty about Doodle's death, as he played a primary role in it.

Teach Baltimore said...

Compelling, but I think you can get it all in there - Doodle is killed by lightning because his brother left him behind, thus the brother feels guilty and it's still a result of his handicap preventing him from outrunning the storm. The bleeding from the mouth is what gets me, still. So his heart gave out - why is he bleeding from the mouth? I'd like to ask a doctor, I guess. But it doesn't matter too much, as long as it's clear that he died as a result of his handicap and the brother leaving him behind, the point of the story is reached. Searching the internet, interpretations run the gamut. My interpretation has shifted over the years as I've read it more and more.

A BCPSS Parent said...

I'll agree that it's not pivotal to the story, but here's my take. Doodle's birth defect has left him generally weak. I wouldn't associate hemorrhaging with a heart attack, but with some sort of aneurysm and/or stroke. Perhaps related to anemia which ties back to the weakness. A standard cause of blood coming out of the mouth would be a severe head trauma, so maybe he fell as he ran and hit his head which, being weak, triggered a rupture in a blood vessle in his head which caused his death. Doodle was killed by his brother and his disability. The lightening storm created a dramatic setting and triggered the running, but didn't directly cause his death.

Mr. B-G said...

Agreed Parent. There are no physical signs that lightening caused his death.

The blood from Doodle's mouth was the result of a ruptured blood vessel that caused his lungs to fill with blood, hence the bleeding from the mouth.

A gripping, tragic story. The students usually enjoy it.