Indian Camp is a short story written by Ernest Hemingway in 1921. It is a part of a volume of short stories called “The Nick Adams stories” where the main character, Nick Adams, is an autobiographical inspired figure. In Indian Camp, Nick Adams is a young boy accompanying his father, Doctor Adams, and his uncle, George, to an Indian camp on the other side of a lake. Nick’s father is going to help a young Indian woman who is having problems delivering her baby. When they arrive the doctor performs an improvised caesarean section to get the baby out with a fishing knife.
After the surgery he finds the woman’s husband, in the bunk above her dead. The husband had killed himself during the painful experience. Nick witnessed all of this. The story is a good example of the “initiation story” – a short story where the protagonist comes into contact with an experience that is life-changing and makes the protagonist go through some kind of development. For instance, on the way to the camp in the boat, Nick is sitting in his father’s arms; on the way back he is sitting on the opposite end.
The fact that Nick sits across his father on the way home symbolises Nick detaching from the childhood, from the pure ignorance you have as a child. Indian Camp is written in a very minimalistic style, which is very characteristic for Hemingway’s writing style. He takes use of the “iceberg technique” where most of the story lies below the surface, “Show it don’t tell”. Hemingway believed that, like an iceberg, which only reveals one-eighth of itself above water, a story should also only reveal the most essential information.
Which also means that the reader has to complete the story with its own imagination. In Indian Camp this means that we have to guess what Nick and the other characters inner reaction is on the birth and the suicide. Also because another minimalistic characteristic is that the writing style is very objective. “He pulled back the blanket from the Indian’s head. His hand came away wet […] His throat had been cut from ear to ear. The blood flowed down into a pool where his body sagged the bunk. ” .
We can not know anything about the feelings or thoughts of the characters. We have to use our imagination and guess to really know what lies below the surface of the story. Life and death is not mentioned at all by the writer except for the fact that the story is about a woman giving birth and a man who kills himself. The fact that Hemmingway avoids to mention life and death directly only intensifies the use of the iceberg technique. In this part of the story we clearly see a contrast between life and death.
While Nick is on the sideline during the terrifying events are taking place he truly learns the meaning life and death. Although it seems that Nick represses the terrifying experience by saying he is not going to die. “[…] he felt quite sure that he would never die. ” . Maybe he is saying this because he can’t imagine to grow up, he doesn’t want to leave the safe environment you have as a child. Everything seems so easy for children and for a little boy it is sometimes very hard to understand death, to understand that everyone will die someday.
Children don’t need to know the difficult truths of life, all the big questions in life are still unanswered and still something you don’t need to know or take into consideration. The reason he tells himself he is not going to die may be a way of his to reassure himself. Nick is however a very curious and clever boy who has a lot of questions. On the way home he asks his father about the suicide. Although Nick doesn’t seem understand the seriousness of the matter but maybe he consciously reacts in this way to protect himself. We will never know for sure. That is the twist of the Hemmingway writing style.
Also the characterizations are very limited which mean that we have to make as most as possible out of the few descriptions we get. We have to learn about their personalities through the actions and dialogues. The story starts in media res which is a Latin word that means in the middle of things. When a story starts in media res there is no introduction to the story or “what so ever”. The story begins in the actions. Then the story follows a chronological way of being told. Another funny fact is that the story begins and ends at the same place – the boat.
Maybe to confirm that Nick is going through a process as earlier mentioned, in the beginning of the story he starts out by sitting next to is father. In the end of the story he is sitting across to his father. The symbolic meaning of the father dying and his child being born at the same time could have a thematic reference to death being just as important as life. One could think that the purpose of showing the dualism of life is a way for Hemingway to tell the reader that even though we all die one day, life always continues.
The question whether if it’s hard to die was an intriguing option for Hemingway to truly reveal himself as a person who was obsessed with suicide. Nick’s father responds that it is not difficult to die, that it in fact is quite easy to do. The beloved Ernest Hemmingway decided to put a gun up his mouth and end his own life shortly after turning 61 years old. Despite his suicide, Hemmingway had a life full of success and people who loved and respected him. He also received the Nobel Prize in Literature.