Style and Technique
Ernest Hemingway once said that when he wrote he was trying to make a picture of the whole world but was always boiling it down. “Indian Camp” is one of his most boiled-down stories, and it occupies an important place in the Hemingway canon. It is, as noted above, the first Nick Adams story, and it was the opening story in Hemingway’s first book, In Our Time (1924). It introduced his early readers to the “Hemingway style,” clipped, pared down, exact—a style that would make the writer famous and much, too much, imitated.
The plot of the story is minimal (a simple night’s experience), the images are few, and the modifiers scarcely in evidence. However, each word has been chosen with a poet’s care. In 1924, it was a new kind of writing in prose; each word carried weight and seemed endowed with a meaning beyond itself. What Hemingway left out was as important for his style as what he retained. The ending of “Indian Camp” offers a good example of Hemingway’s working method.
Initially the story was to end with Nick experiencing the dawn, his hand trailing in the warm water of the lake as the bass jumped, making a circle. Now, however, the story concludes with a modifying series of prepositional phrases, each of which introduces both the irony and the innocence of the moment on the lake, suggesting the motif of therapeutic forgetfulness that later formed a central part of all the other Hemingway characters. The tightness of the rolling phrases, their flow, and their association provide a useful example of how Hemingway layers so much onto his prose without the excesses of authorial intrusion or literary hyperbole.