Indian Camp Essay - Essays and Criticism

Ernest Hemingway

Essays and Criticism

In Ernest Hemingway's short stories "Indian Camp" and "Soldier's Home," young women are treated as objects whose purpose is either reproduction or pleasure. They do not and cannot participate to a significant degree in the masculine sphere of experience, and when they have served their purpose, they are set aside. They do not have a voice in the narrative, and they represent complications in life that must be overcome in one way or another. While this portrayal of young women is hardly unique to Hemingway, the author uses it as a device to probe the male psyche more deeply.

"Indian Camp" opens with an all-male convoy of rowboats heading across the lake, with young Nick, his doctor father and his Uncle George off to see an "Indian lady [who is] very sick." As they disembark on the other side and follow a young Indian bearing a lantern to the camp where childbirth is taking place, the men's guiding interest is not in the mother-to-be as a person, but in her physiology as a case study. When they find her screaming in bed, Nick's father dehumanizes her by saying: "[Her] screams are not important. I don't hear them because they are not important."

Bitten by the young woman during labor pangs, Uncle George reacts instinctively: "Damn squaw bitch!" She is not seen as a co-participant with the men overseeing the birth. Instead, she is merely an object they are operating on, a "bitch" soon to whelp her pup, so to speak. The "studied control of the father and doctor as rational man" (DeFalco 30), a carefully constructed pose, stands in contrast to the young woman's inarticulate helplessness in childbirth. The likening of the doctor's joviality after the Cesarean operation to "football players...in the dressing room" emphasizes the gap between the men's experience of life and what the woman has just gone through.

When the doctor's exalted pose breaks down after the discovery of the Indian husband's bloody suicide, he seeks refuge in dismissive rationalizations. Neither the woman nor her dead husband matter at this stage; the...

(The entire section is 840 words.)