In "Indian Camp," why did the husband of the Indian woman kill himself after the birth of his son?

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Because Hemingway often omitted crucial information from his stories, they are frequently ripe for interpretation, comment, and criticism. One theory about the suicide of the Indian husband in "Indian Camp " suggests that he is not the father of his wife's child and that Uncle George, who rushes to...

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Because Hemingway often omitted crucial information from his stories, they are frequently ripe for interpretation, comment, and criticism. One theory about the suicide of the Indian husband in "Indian Camp" suggests that he is not the father of his wife's child and that Uncle George, who rushes to the camp ("Nick heard the oarlocks of the other boat quite away ahead of them in the mist") before Nick and Dr. Adams, is the actual father. When Nick gets to shore, he sees Uncle George giving cigars to two Indians. It is usually the father of a newborn who hands out cigars. It is also potentially suggested that Uncle George raped the Indian woman. When he holds her down, she bites him, and he labels her a "damn squaw bitch."

If it is rape, the husband, because he is Indian and Indians were considered second-class citizens at that time, has no recourse against Uncle George. He could not go to the white authorities and probably would not want to admit that a white man impregnated his wife anyway. The man had to listen to the cries of his wife for three days as she lay in labor with another man's child. Thus, when Uncle George arrives passing out cigars, adding insult to injury, the man cannot "stand things" and commits suicide.

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The closest Hemingway comes to answering this question directly in the story is Nick's father's reply when Nick asks him why the man killed himself: "I don't know, Nick. He couldn't stand things, I guess." What the husband "couldn't stand" can be found in the facts of the story and the inferences we can draw from them.

When Nick, his father (the doctor), and Nick's Uncle George enter the shanty at the Indian camp, the young woman had labored for two days to deliver her baby (a breech birth) and her husband lay on the bunk above hers, having hurt his foot with an axe three days before. She has suffered and screamed in pain; for two days, her husband has lain above her, listening to her cries--unable to help and unable to escape the sounds of her suffering, unlike almost all the other men in camp who have gone up the road so that they do not have to hear her. 

After examining his patient, Nick's father performs a Caesarian section to take the baby that cannot be delivered naturally. This, a major operation, is endured without anesthesia by the young woman as four men hold her down. The doctor operates with a jack-knife and sews up the incision with his fishing gear. Her agony can only be imagined, for Hemingway notes it not at all, except to say that she bit Uncle George as she was being held down before the surgery actually began.

As the horror took place below him, the husband lay above, listening. Nick's father had given no thought to his feelings as he experienced his wife's agony, just as Nick's father considered his patient's screams (and the suffering they expressed) unimportant. The doctor had explained nothing to him nor given him any reassurance as to the outcome of his wife's ordeal. Neither he nor his wife had been prepared in any way for what would take place. In his horror and helplessness, the young husband cuts his own throat, his only escape from the unbearable situation. He died before his son was born. He couldn't "stand things" any longer.

 

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