"Indian Camp" is the first of several short stories by Ernest Hemingway about the character Nick Adams. Nick is basically Hemingway's alter ego and many of the events in the stories are autobiographical. Indian Camp is set in an Indian camp on a unnamed lake which was probably...
"Indian Camp" is the first of several short stories by Ernest Hemingway about the character Nick Adams. Nick is basically Hemingway's alter ego and many of the events in the stories are autobiographical. Indian Camp is set in an Indian camp on a unnamed lake which was probably Walloon Lake where the Hemingway family had property. Like Nick's father in the story, Hemingway's father was also a doctor. Other Nick Adams stories are set in the Michigan woods near a lake.
The young Nick experiences two important events at the Indian camp which take him past innocence. At the start of the story he is pictured in his father's arms as they travel by boat to a camp to help a pregnant woman. Nick and his father are accompanied by his father's friend George. The Indian woman is having a difficult pregnancy and his father says the baby is not coming out head first and, his father says, "When they're not they make a lot of trouble for everybody."
Nick's father has to perform a Caesarian section on the woman with a jack-knife and Nick is witness to the entire operation as he holds the basin full of water where the umbilical cord is eventually placed. It is a scene that most young boys never experience, and Nick is obviously changed after watching the birth of the Indian boy. As the doctor stitches up the woman, Hemingway writes, "Nick did not watch. His curiosity had been gone for a long time."
The Indian woman's husband has been in the bunk above his wife during the entire procedure and, because of the screaming and length of the ordeal, has committed suicide by slitting his throat with a razor. When Nick asks why the man would do such a thing, his father says, "I don't know Nick. He couldn't stand things, I guess."
So, in this brief story Nick witnesses the messiest of births and messiest of deaths. At the end when they return home on the boat he is no longer in his father's arms but rather, "sitting in the stern of the boat with his father rowing...quite sure that he would never die."
It's interesting that only four years after the publication of this story Hemingway's father would commit suicide and Hemingway himself took his own life in 1961.