The first of the Nick Adams series, “Indian Camp” embraces the full gamut of life, from birth to death, in a single day’s time. Above all, the story is about Nick’s rite of passage from being an innocent child toward being an adult with a first-hand awareness of human mortality and the senselessness of death. The boy does not complete the passage in this story; indeed, at its conclusion he entertains thoughts about his own immortality. But this is a form of denial, and the seed of tragedy has been planted in his psyche. The story also includes a studied contrast between civilized and savage behavior. When the pregnant Indian woman bites Uncle George, he calls her a “damn squaw.” Her “assault” on him is an instinctive and primitive reaction to pain; his response is a culturally-conditioned display of racial bias.
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