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In Our Time | Study Guide

Ernest Hemingway

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In Our Time | The Doctor and the Doctor's Wife | Summary

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Summary

Nick's father has hired three Native Americans to cut up some logs on his property. They are Dick Boulton, his son Eddy, and Billy Tabeshaw. The logs have drifted astray from the log booms a logging company floats down the river.

Dick calls Nick's father "Doc" and teases him about stealing timber. Nick's father tells him not to say that. "It's driftwood," Nick's father says. Dick examines the logs and finds the logging company's mark. "It belongs to White and McNally," Dick says, naming a logging company.

Nick's father is uncomfortable. He says if Dick "think[s] the logs are stolen," he and his men should leave. Dick tries to placate him, but Nick's father orders him to leave. Nick's father threatens Dick, and Dick threatens him back. The two men posture, about to start a fight. The doctor walks away and enters his cottage. Dick says something in Ojibway, and the Native American men leave.

Nick's father and mother talk about the quarrel. Nick's father gives a complicated explanation for the disagreement—he claims Dick owes him money and started a quarrel to avoid paying the money back in the form of work.

Nick's father says he is going out for a walk and takes a shotgun. Nick's mother tells him to send Nick to her. He relays the message to Nick, but Nick says, "I want to go with you." They go to hunt squirrels together.

Analysis

Nick's father's name, Henry, appears in this story. However, the narrator refers to Henry in a way that aligns him with Nick. Apart from the title, in this story Henry Adams is always referred to as "Nick's father." This habit keeps the reader's focus on Nick. Even though Nick only appears in the final paragraphs here, the story is in some sense about Nick. It reveals Nick's world—Henry Adams remains of interest because he is Nick's father, not because he is a doctor named Henry.

By contrast, Henry's wife is always called "his wife"; she is never called "Nick's mother" although that's who she is. Near the end of the story, she says, "tell [Nick] his mother wants to see him." This way of referring to herself is echoed in the story's title, "The Doctor and the Doctor's Wife," and suggests she is less important to Nick.

The mother's relative unimportance is echoed in Nick's choice at the end of the story. Nick's father finds Nick outside, "sitting with his back to a tree, reading." Nick does not want to go inside the house to see his mother. The narration does not say why. The house contains "darkened" rooms and the mother's religious magazines. Outdoors has guns, prey to shoot, and the threat of violence. Nick chooses the latter.

The threatened fight between the doctor, a white man, and the other men, Native Americans, at the beginning of the story resonates with the war stories in In Our Time and threatens to become violent. There is some question regarding the ownership of the logs as well as Dick Boulton's ethnicity. The narrator says he is "a half-breed" but also reports that "many of the farmers around the lake believed he was really a white man." By confronting the doctor with the moral ambiguity of the "drift" wood and the falsity of social status based on race, Dick Boulton exerts a kind of sudden power over the doctor that infuriates him but also causes him to back down and walk away from the impending fight.

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