In Our Time | Study Guide

Ernest Hemingway

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In Our Time | Indian Camp | Summary

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Summary

Two Native Americans come to fetch a boy named Nick, his father, and his Uncle George. They all travel in two boats to a nearby "Indian camp." The father is a doctor, and they need him to help a Native American woman deliver a baby. He has brought along Nick to watch. The woman has been in labor two days, and old women from the camp have been trying to help her. She lies in a shanty on the lower bunk of a pair of bunk beds. The upper bunk is occupied by her husband, who had "cut his foot very badly with an ax three days before." The husband is turned to the wall, smoking a pipe.

The baby is positioned feet-first, so the delivery is difficult. The doctor performs a Caesarian section, surgically delivering the baby. In pain, the woman bites Uncle George on the arm. The baby is a boy. The father stitches up the woman's incision. Nick is in the room but looks away. As Nick and his father prepare to leave, they discover the husband has cut his throat and bled to death under the blanket. The father asks George to take Nick out of the room, but Nick watches his father examine the dead man's neck. As they walk back to the boats, the father apologizes to Nick for having brought him. "It was an awful mess to put you through," he says. They talk about men killing themselves, and women, which the father says is rare. They row back, and Nick feels immortal.

Analysis

Presumably, Nick's father brings Nick along thinking it will be educational for Nick to watch a baby being born. As soon as they come into the shanty, three things happen in quick succession. The Native American men move up the road out of range of the woman's noise; the woman screams; and Nick's father explains what is happening. Distance protects the other men from the woman's cries of pain. Nick's father protects himself from the woman's pain by explaining it, making it part of his lecture, saying "all her muscles are trying to get the baby born. That is what is happening when she screams." Nick is upset by the woman's suffering, but his father is not. He says, "I don't hear them because they're not important." Logically, he must hear them, and he has to deny it twice because the denial is not completely effective.

The prose style is somber and unemotional, leaving room for the reader to supply the emotions. When Nick's father explains he's going to stitch the woman up, Nick turns away. His emotional state is described only as "his curiosity had been gone for a long time." This understatement leaves open to conjecture exactly what Nick is feeling, but it's something negative. After the operation, Nick seems deflated and withdrawn while the father is "feeling exalted and talkative as football players are in the dressing room after a game."

Nick's father turns to the "proud father," the Native American lying on the top bunk. He tells Nick the fathers are "usually the worst sufferers in these little affairs." His tone is jolly, as if he expects to joke with another man about what they have both suffered, having to hear the woman's suffering. The story makes clear that listening to another person's pain is painful, but Nick's father is being a bit jokey.

When Nick's father discovers the suicide, the situation reverses. Now Nick's father is deflated, and Nick's curiosity reawakens. Nick's father asks George to remove Nick, but he stays. Nick had looked away from the woman, but now he watches.

At the end of the story, Nick's father confirms several facts for him: it is easy to die; men sometimes kill themselves; women sometimes do, too, though less often. Nick's reaction appears through dramatic irony; the narrator notes the sensory details Nick notices: the hour of the day, the bass jumping, and the warm water. Then the narrator remarks, "[Nick] felt quite sure that he would never die." Nick does not realize what other people acknowledge, that he will die.

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