The Doctor and the Doctor's Wife Summary

Synopsis

Ernest Hemingway's "The Doctor and the Doctor's Wife" opens with the half-breed, Dick Boulton, and two other Indians coming over from Indian Camp to cut logs for the Doctor, the father of Nick Adams. The logs have been "lost from the big booms...towed by the steamer Magic," and although on occasion the lumbermen might come back for them, it is more than likely they will be left to rot on the beach. Assuming this will be the case, Nick's father has no qualms about claiming the logs, but Boulton says insinuatingly, "that's a nice lot of timber you've stolen," and washes one of the logs to reveal the company name marked at its end. This makes the Doctor "very uncomfortable," and an argument ensues, after which the Doctor walks angrily back to his house.

The Doctor briefly tells his wife, who is lying in a dark room in their cottage, about his "row" with Boulton. The wife, a Christian Scientist, speaks condescendingly to her husband, telling him she hopes that he did not lose his temper. The Doctor takes his shotgun and begins to clean it, and when he is finished he loads it and puts it in the corner of the room. He then tells his wife he is going for a walk. Just before he slams the door, she calls out to him, asking him to tell Nick that she wants to see him. The Doctor finds Nick sitting in the woods, reading. He relays his wife's message, but Nick says he prefers to go with his father. At Nick's suggestion, the two set off into the woods to see some black squirrels.

The second story in the collection In Our Time, "The Doctor and the Doctor's Wife" was published in 1925 and is usually considered to be part of a unit with "Indian Camp," the narrative preceding it. The story continues the chronicle of Nick Adams's development into maturity. In "The Doctor and the Doctor's Wife," Nick's father is shown to be ineffectual when standing up against Dick Boulton, his perceived inferior, and Nick's mother is holed up in a dark, womb-like room, apparently incapacitated by an unnamed malaise. Having experienced a realistic view of both his parents, Nick, when forced to choose between them, opts to leave the protective but stifling security offered by his mother to venture with his father into the woods, which in its location at the edge of the wilderness represents exploration and possibility.

In this account of the exposition of one man's ineffectiveness, the Doctor and all he stands for is opposed from all sides by conflicting forces, before which his sense of selfhood crumbles. The Indians, upon whom the Doctor has looked as subservient, have taken an upper hand in their relationship, even bringing into question his morals, as concerns the act of taking what is not his. The Doctor's wife is a Christian Scientist, espousing a religion which denies the value of the Doctor's profession, as illustrated by the juxtaposition of the images of his unopened medical journals and her Bible and copies of Christian Science magazines lying on a table beside her bed. The Doctor's wife does not support him when he tells her about the incident with Boulton, and, leaving behind his gun, the symbol of his manhood, the Doctor leaves the cottage, defeated yet again. Nick's father's identity is not completely destroyed, however. Nick still wants to be with him, choosing him over his mother. Father and son venture into the woods together, although this time it is Nick who suggests going to look for the squirrels; from here on, it will be the son who leads the way.