It is human nature to be prideful and act superior. Unfortunately for some, it takes a traumatic experience to address that. In Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s story “The Return”, Kamau is a young man caught up in his pride. He expects all his village companions to remember him as the noble hero he was recognized as before being sent to internment camps, and he is not. He struggles with his pride, which is holding him back from letting go of his past; Similarly, in James Hurst’s “The Scarlet Ibis”, the eldest sibling dearly wishes for a younger brother that is normal and is disappointed because his brother turns out to be disabled. His pride gets the best of him, and to this day he feels a deep sense of regret for being so foolish as a child. In both short stories, the authors share the common theme that maturity trumps pride. Hurst and Thiong’o use symbolism to convey the idea that tragedy can enlighten even the most prideful.In “The Return”, Thiong’o uses symbolism to convey the idea that pride is not everything. In the text, Kamau comes from a small Gikuyu village in Kenya, and he was one of the many who had been abducted by the British government during the Mau Mau emergency.
The story begins by describing Kamau’s walk home from the internment camps, and the author specifically points out a bundle that he is carrying: “The bundle, well wrapped with a cotton cloth that had once been printed with red flowers now faded out (…) held the bitterness and hardships of the years (…)” (Thiong’o 1). The author emphasizes that the bundle is worn out from years in the camp, but he is also implying that it symbolizes Kamau’s old life. Later in the story, we discover that Kamua’s life has changed in ways he cannot fathom. Not only is the bundle foreshadowing to when he discovers all that has happened, but it also represents how he does not want to let it go. The author uses the words “bitterness” and “hardships” to symbolize Kamau’s pride as well, seeing as the bundle is representing his old life, pride and all;Meanwhile, Kamau comes across some village women and expects them to remember him. While questioning his approach he thinks to himself, “Would they receive him? (…) He thought so. Had he not always been a favorite all along the ridge? And had he not fought for the land?” (Thiong’o 2). This train of thought showed how Kamau had such high hopes of his return that he got caught up in his pride, and when reality hit him, he wasn’t sure if he could handle the fact his wife left him, and nobody recognized him as the noble hero he was; However, at the end of the story, Kamau has a moment of epiphany where he comes to terms with himself and drops the bundle into a river as it floats along. This symbolizes how he is putting his old life, including his pride, behind him.
The fact that the woman he loved ran away with his childhood enemy was enough to help him see how he had acted immature, and he dismissed it all once he realized it was no use to hold onto the past.In “The Scarlet Ibis”, Hurst uses symbolism to emphasize the idea that pride can cloud one’s vision. The story begins by describing a young boy and his little brother, Doodle. The boy didn’t particularly like Doodle, in fact, he wanted to kill him. Throughout the story, the older brother uses little bits of hope to keep himself going. One day he decides to teach Doodle how to walk; but not for Doodle’s sake, for his own: “It seemed so hopeless from the beginning (…) But all of us must have something to be proud of and Doodle had become mine.” (Hurst 5) This not only shows the brothers massive pride, but he was using Doodle’s flaws to feed it. Eventually the narrator pushes Doodle so hard he dies, but he does not recognize this at the time. As he grows older in maturity, his pride fades, and he can finally see what he had missed. The brother uses the words “hope” and “hopeless” a number of times as if it is his way of justifying his actions, allowing him to explain why what he did was so necessary. Doodle’s death brought light to his eyes and allowed him to see how his cruel actions due to pride had resulted in something he would forever regret. Later in the story, Doodle finds a scarlet ibis outside in a tree. After a few squawks, the bird falls to the ground, dead. Soon after, the older brother requests they practice swimming and rowing some more. Although Doodle protests, the brother drags him along, abandoning him under a tree. He then returns to check on Doodle out of concern: “He had been bleeding from the mouth, and his neck and the front of his shirt were stained a brilliant red (…) I lay there crying, sheltering my fallen scarlet ibis from the heresy of rain.” (Hurst 12). The author uses the scarlet ibis to symbolize Doodle.
Earlier in the story, the narrator makes a remark saying: “How many miles it had traveled to die like this, in our yard.” (Hurst 10). He is illustrating the relationship between his younger brother and the bird, by showing they had both come so far on their journey, and simply died. The ibis is also connected to the brother’s pride; in the sense that it had traveled a long way, but his pride could only get Doodle so far. His pride was at its strongest point when he had left Doodle, and suddenly “died” once he discovered what he had done.In these cases, going through a mentally challenging period helped their pride dissolve and reveal a higher level of maturity. Thiong’o’s story showed that Kamau, as prideful as he was, receovered from his sorrows. By experiencing the pain that his wife left him and accepting he was no longer the village hero, he left his pride aside and grew in maturity. Hurst also conveys this idea by displaying that the narrator is disappointed because his little brother lacks the ability to walk. His pride gets the best of him eventually, and now that he is older, he can see everything that his pride had restricted him from seeing.