Character Comparison Essay: “The Scarlet Ibis” and “Thank You Ma’am”
Characters might seem different at a glance, but if you pay enough attention you can see how alike they are. People can look different based on perspective. A thief from the city with nothing and a farm boy from the country with a decent life have nothing in common on the surface, yet look a little deeper and you’ll see the truth. Roger, from James Hurst’s “Thank You, Ma’am” and Doodle’s older brother from Langston Hughes’ “The Scarlet Ibis” are more similar than they are different, providing portraits of characters who exhibit once-hidden sensitivities.
Doodle’s brother and Roger are both willing to do selfish things in the beginnings of their stories to get what they want. For example, Roger was trying to steal from Mrs. Jones to pay for a pair of shoes. Not everyone, even if they were in Roger’s situation, would resort to stealing. Roger chooses to steal instead of working hard and finding a job, and it proves that he can be selfish and is willing to do the wrong thing. Doodle’s brother says, “When Doodle was five years old, I was embarrassed at having a brother that age who couldn’t walk, so I set out to teach him”(Hurst 2). When Doodle’s older brother sets out to teach Doodle to walk, though he is doing something nice, he has entirely selfish reasons for doing so. He only wanted to teach Doodle so that he wouldn’t have to be embarrassed anymore. Even before that Doodle’s brother shows how selfish he is when he says “But having one who was possibly not all there was unbearable, so I began to make plans to kill him” (Hearst 1). The narrator actually thought about killing his brother, just because he thought Doodle wouldn’t be able to play with him. Even though he was only six at the time, and didn’t fully understand the meaning of life, it’s still amazingly selfish to want to take away a human life because it didn’t live up to his expectations. Both Doodle’s brother and Roger started out with selfish intentions.
Later in the two stories, it became clear that though both Roger and Doodle’s older brother start out acting selfishly they both later regret their actions. Doodle’s brother is angry and embarrassed when he runs away from Doodle, leaving his little brother alone in the rain. He soon feels guilty and calls out for Doodle only to find him dead. He feels responsible for his little brother’s death and feels immensely guilty and sad. He is still full of guilt even as an adult. He can remember everything from that summer and everything about Doodle so clearly because of that. Roger also later regrets his choice to try and steal Mrs. Jones’ purse. Throughout the story, he begins to regret his actions and by the end, he’s thanking her. The story says, “The boy wanted to say something else other than “Thank you ma’am”’ (Hughes 4). Roger feels like he owes her, more than just a thank you for being kind to him when he tried to steal from her so clearly he regrets what he’s done. Once again, the two act similarly.
Finally, both characters have important events in their childhood that they remember for a long time. It can be seen that Roger has been changed by Mrs. Jones when he chooses not to run from her house. He has become someone who wants to own up for his mistakes. The story also mentions that Roger never saw Mrs. Jones again, which is to imply that he looked for her. He wanted to find a better way to thank her, but never found her, and something like that sticks with a person. The lesson he learned that day and the memory of Mrs. Jones was probably remembered as a turning point in Roger’s life. A similar effect is shown on Doodle’s older brother. Doodle’s older brother narrates the story using tons of detail because his memories of that part of his life, and of Doodle are still fresh in his mind. It’s like that summer, who knows how many years ago, happened yesterday for Doodle’s brother. The memory of his brother is so important to him that it stays with him no matter how many years pass. Roger and the brother’s mistakes seem to haunt them throughout their lives.
While Roger from “Thank You M’am” and Doodle’s brother from “The Scarlet Ibis” may seem different at first, look closer and they are more alike than you might think. They were both boys who made mistakes, regretted, and in the end, remembered. When people do something wrong, they learn from it, and that’s what these two really have in common.
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