Ten Indians by Ernest Hemingway Summary

Synopsis

Published in 1927 in the compendium Men Without Women, "Ten Indians" is part of the saga of Nick Adams's development. Hemingway's title alludes to the children's song of 1864, "Ten Little Indians," and is suggestive of Dr. Adams's sadistic remarks to Nick at the narrative's end. This title and some of the dialogue also illustrate the callous attitudes toward Native Americans in the setting of the story.

The narrative begins on the Fourth of July as Nick Adams rides home with the Garners and their boys Carl and Frank. Along the way, Mr. Garner must remove a drunken Indian from the wheel rut to keep from running over him. "That makes nine of them," Joe says as though reciting a verse from the song. When Carl asks if the Indian is Billy Tabeshaw because of his pants, Joe tells him all Indians wear the same kind of pants. After Frank says he thought his father was killing a snake instead, Joe Garner sarcastically observes that many Indians will kill snakes that night, and Mrs. Garner remarks, "Them Indians."

As they reach a clearing, Nick points to where his father has run over a skunk, adding that he has seen two skunks. Carl teases Nick that he should recognize skunks since he has an Indian girlfriend and Indians smell, too. This teasing makes Nick feel "hollow and happy inside himself," and he denies that Prudence Mitchell is his girlfriend. Mrs. Garner teases Carl, saying he cannot "get a girl, not even a squaw." An argument between the brothers ensues, but Joe diffuses it, telling Carl he is all right because girls never get a man anywhere. He also tells Nick to be watchful in order to keep Prudie.

After arriving at the farmhouse, Nick enters the Garners' kitchen to thank Mrs. Garner for taking him to town and the baseball game. He then heads home barefooted, crossing the meadow and walking through the swamp mud. On the front porch he notices his father through the window as he reads. His father asks Nick if he had a good day and inquires about his shoes. Nick replies that it was a "swell Fourth of July" and says he left his shoes in the wagon. There is cold chicken and milk for Nick, along with pie. When Nick asks his father what he has done, his father tells him that he fished and walked by the Indian camp. Nick asks if he saw anyone, but his father says the Indians were all in town drinking. "Didn't you see anybody?" Nick persists. His father replies that he has seen Prudie with Frank Washburn, and they were having "quite a time."

His father leaves the kitchen, but returns to discover that Nick has been crying. He asks Nick if he wants more pie, but Nick says "No." Still, his father insists, "You better have another piece." Refusing it, Nick asks where Prudie and Frank were. Later, in his room Nick feels that his heart is broken, but he finally falls asleep. In the morning, he is awake for some time before he recalls his heartbreak.