What are the most important things that we can learn from the experience of Nick in " Indian Camp"?

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tsjoseph eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Both we, as readers, and Nick, as a character, can potentially learn from the events in "Indian Camp." This story develops many themes that are common in the Nick Adams stories. 

One of the major conflicts at the root of the story is the clash of cultures--the social barrier between the world of Nick's father and the world of the Indians.  In the text, the body of water Nick and his father must cross is a literal representation of the barrier between the two groups.  Nick's father crosses this physical barrier, but the cultural barrier remains insurmountable.  He does not even appear to view his patient as a fellow human: he does not bring anaesthetic and the woman's screams are "not important." 

The central learning experience for Nick, however, is about death: how and why people die.  Nick clearly sees the Indian man's suicide, and his questions about it dominate the last part of the story.  "Do many men kill themselves, Daddy?" Nick asks.  And later, he wonders, "Is dying hard, Daddy?"  "Indian Camp" is very much about Nick's early initiation into cold, hard mortality and about his father's limitations.

As he does in many of his stories, however, Hemingway offers some hope and reassurance.  Here, the healing power of nature calms the young Nick Adams as they leave the Indian Camp, and with his fingers trailing in the water, Nick "felt quite sure that he would never die."