Mikolaj Marciniak [essay om indian camp]
(While writing this essay I didn’t have my book with me, so I had to find the story online. Therefore I did not include any line-page references; I gave examples from the text instead)
Growing up can vary from country to country, from city to city, and from family to family. In this case, we have a young boy named Nick, who is the main character in “Indian Camp”, and who is under the process of growing up and he is experiencing it the hard way. The other main theme of the story is life and death, as the sick Indian lady gives birth to a child, and her husband commits suicide because of her sufferings and maybe some other reasons.
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There are three main characters in the story: Nick, a young child, Nick’s dad, a medical doctor, and Uncle George, Nick’s uncle. Nowhere in the story is it stated that they are white (Caucasian) nor that they are related to each other. The reader might get a different impression due to the use of the word ‘Uncle’. However let us assume that they are of Indian descent. In Indian societies, words like ‘uncle’ and ‘auntie’ have the same meaning as words in American societies ‘mister’ and ‘misses’.
Assuming that Nick and his Dad are Indians, this might explain why Nick’s dad doesn’t have anesthetic or proper cutting tools, such as scalpels or sutures.
“Oh, Daddy, can’t you give her something to make her stop screaming?” asked Nick.
“No. I haven’t any anesthetic,” his father said. “But her screams are not important. I don’t hear them because they are not important.”
It is because Native Americans do not always agree with modern society technologies; they rely on their strong faith when it comes to medical curing and rejuvenation. Regardless of how one would interpret Nick’s dad’s job, it is unarguable that although he is very good at his job, he has also limited equipment, meaning that he and his son might indeed be of Indian descent.
As stated before, Nick’s father appears to be an educated person that is helping his under-educated society. For a very long time ago a doctor was just as important as the leader of a tribe. In some cases even more so. Everybody followed his directions without question even though the methods were in most cases ridiculous. Nowadays this authority has been minimized and doctors’ ways often become questioned and they are simple ordinary people. In “Indian Camp” Nick’s father is presented as an ordinary person, with nobody bowing down or kneeling to him.
Nick’s father appears to be a very simple person with ordinary hobbies such as fishing. This is shown in the text by Nick operating the lady with a jack-knife, which is normally used for gutting a fish.
“That’s one for the medical journal, George,” he said. “Doing a Caesarian with a jack-knife and sewing it up with nine-foot, tapered gut leaders.”
Another example in the text that emphasizes this is when Nick’s father rows the boat back home, just like people after a long day of fishing. Nick rowing the boat is also another proof of them being Indian, although this is not presented directly in the text. It is because if Nick and his father were white, the guides would have surely rowed them back home. Where did they go, by the way?
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Uncle George is a slightly controversial character. Everybody seems to know him around the camp. It is known that when women give birth and the father is near them, they usually scream at the father. In “Indian Camp”, the mother bites George, reflecting the mentioned behavior in some way. In return, George calls her “squaw bitch” which could be a sign of intimacy. If all this evidence isn’t enough to prove my point that George might be the father, he also gives out cigars, which is a well known “tradition”. Last but not least, the reason the husband commits suicide is not just the screaming but because his wife is giving birth to a baby that is not his.
The Indian lay with his face toward the wall. His throat had been cut from ear to ear. The blood had flowed down into a pool where his body sagged the bunk. His head rested on his left arm. The open razor lay, edge up, in the blankets.
The last sentence of the citation above can be confusing. Razor? This cutting tool is fairly newer than a jack-knife, what is it doing in hands of a person that is apparently poorer than the doctor? Could Uncle George have had relations with the mother for money? If so, he might have been able to afford a razor and then give it to the poor Indian, knowing that he would use it to kill himself.
In conclusion, I would like to state that there are many ways for the reader to interpret the story. Hemingway consciously wrote the story in a manner that only a little percentage is being exposed to the reader, meaning that we have to assume a lot and conclude Hemingway’s thoughts to make the story complete. According to me, the two main themes are growing up and life and death. The story gives two different messages: horrors of growing up, and reasons for committing suicide. In both messages, Hemmingway warns us indirectly against the mistakes parents can make unknowingly while raising their children, and what cheating can lead to: if my theory was right, the husband committed suicide because the mother cheated, the suicide therefore results in another child’s life being destroyed.
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