(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“Indian Camp” is a story of initiation in which young Nick Adams accompanies his father, a physician, on a call to an Indian camp, where the father delivers a baby by cesarean section using only his jackknife. The violence and pain of the birth contrast sharply with the ease of the suicide of the pregnant woman’s husband, brought on by her screams, and introduce Nick to the realities of birth and death.

The story begins in the dark, before sunrise, as Nick, his father, and Uncle George are rowed across the lake by some Indian men. Nick’s father explains that they are going to the camp to treat an “Indian lady who is very sick.” The trio follow an Indian with a lantern through the dewy grass. Their way becomes easier and lighter when they are able to walk on the logging road that cuts through the woods, and eventually they are greeted by the dogs that live at the edge of the shantytown occupied by the Indian bark-peelers. The lighted window and the woman holding a light at the doorway of the nearest hut direct the two men and the boy to the woman in labor.

Inside on a wooden bunk lies the pregnant woman, who has been in labor for two days and who cannot deliver despite the help of the other women in the camp. The woman screams as the men enter. The interior of the hut is sketchily described, except for the bunk beds, the lower berth of which is filled by the woman and the upper berth of which holds her husband, who hurt his foot with an ax three days before. The room smells very bad.

Nick’s father goes into action, demanding hot water and trying to tell Nick that the woman is going to have a baby. His condensed but rather technical explanation...

(The entire section is 691 words.)

Extended Summary

“Indian Camp” was written by Hemingway in the early 1920s and first appeared in the April, 1924, issue of the literary journal Transatlantic. It is one of his best-known short works, and this is partly due to its being the first in a series of the Nick Adams tales. It initiates a sequence of stories that follows Nick from boyhood through his combat experience in World War I and into his post-war disillusionment as a wounded veteran trying to adjust to normal, civil society. The autobiographical parallels between Nick and Hemingway are manifold. Here the story is told through the experience of Nick as a boy who lives with his physician father in a remote region of northern Michigan.

The story begins at the break of dawn as Nick, his father, and his Uncle George are rowed across a lake by some local Indians. They are on an emergency medical call, for a pregnant Indian woman is in the midst of a very difficult birth. They arrive at the camp, actually a kind of shantytown, and a woman in one of its huts beckons them toward their destination. Inside a pregnant Indian woman lies in agony on the lower berth of a bunk bed. She screams with pain and terror when the three outsiders enter the squalid abode. Despite two days of excruciating labor, the woman has not been able to deliver her child, and the local midwives are at a loss to help her. The Indian woman’s husband lies wounded in the upper berth of the bunk bed, having suffered an accidental axe wound.

Nick’s father explains the situation to him, and when the boy suggests that he give the woman something to ease her pain, the elder Adams says that her screams are not important and that he pays no attention to them. Nick’s father washes his hands in hot water, and tells his son that he must perform an operation. Using his sterilized pocket knife, the doctor intends to deliver the infant by cesarean section. Uncle George and some Indian men hold the woman steady, while...

(The entire section is 534 words.)