The "Man to Man" Rivalry of Ernest Hemingway’s "Indian Camp"

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Words: 1254 |

Pages: 3|

7 min read

Published: Jan 31, 2024

Words: 1254|Pages: 3|7 min read

Published: Jan 31, 2024

“No. I haven’t any anaesthetic. But her screams are not important. I don’t hear them because they are not important.”

'Why Violent Video Games Shouldn't Be Banned'?

—Ernest Hemingway, Indian Camp, 1924

One of the most important lessons a young man should learn are the ones learnt from his father. In “Indian Camp”, Nick sets off on his first excursion to the shanties to view a cesarean birth and his father demonstrates how to look adversity in the face wit stoicism. Beneath Hemingway’s simple prose and plot about a father-son relationship reveals intense racial differences between the white man and Indian, focusing on the hierarchy of authority. Hemingway explores the Indian man’s bitter response to the “savage vs civilized rivalry” that prevailed during early colonization through his careful usage of imagery and symbolism.

The story begins with Nick Adams, his father, and two other Indians voyaging in the dark across the lake to an Indian camp. Hemingway sets up the framework for Nick Adam’s entry from his physical world into a metaphoric world As soon as the Indians’ boat docks at the beach, Uncle George hands both Indians cigars. The gesture does not appear to stem from Uncle George’s indebtment of the doctor since the doctor is simply helping the sick woman. The act must have been an expression of gratitude, like a present. Right away, Uncle George’s and the Indians’ relationship reveals implications of a dominant and subordinate dynamic. Through this exchange, Dr. Adam likely gained a sense of superiority with the gesture. This scene bears comparisons to Columbus’ log-book, where he commonly allowed appropriation of native land through the act of gift-giving. Later, the Indian’s journey through the beach into the meadows, past the woods and hills closely resemble how early Spanish colonizers explored unfamiliar waters into native grounds. These four locations the Indians trek to alludes to the four voyages Columbus set forth on before he finally reached the New World. The imagery craftily paints the symbolic departure of the world Nick knew and into a realm void of modernity. The author emphasizes the primal aspects of Indian camp by the detailing of the shanties the Indians live in and suggesting the lack of electricity when he notes, “An old woman stood in the doorway holding a lamp”(67). He also points out the foul odor in the room, “The room smelled very bad” to further highlight the unevolved lifestyle of those living in the shanties. Early on, the racial differences are made explicit with the recurring juxtaposition between the civilization/savage, light/dark, and clean/dirty.

When the Indians arrive at the woman’s shanty, Nick’s father makes a great effort to teach Nick an important lesson about what the woman is going through. Nick is clearly traumatized and struggles to cope with the woman’s screams, leading him to ask his father, “ Oh, daddy, can’t you give her something to make her stop screaming?” (68) This scene is rich with hidden meaning, especially Dr. Adam’s attitude towards the entire procedure. Dr. Adams says to Nick, “But her screams are not important. I do not hear them because they are not important.” Dr. Adams is teaching Nick to maintain an apathetic view of the mother’s distress. There are no signs that indicate that the other Indians feel this way towards the mother’s screams. The emotional distancing Dr. Adams demonstrates is made explicit when he says, “When they’re not (born head first) they make a lot of trouble for everybody” because he describes the birthing process simply as a physical act and disregards the agonizing state of pain the woman is in. The reader discovers there is no anesthetic and he must operate on the mother through cesarean surgery. Uncle George and the three men hold down the mother, which is undoubtedly one of the worst cases of obstetric violence. Commonly in obstetric malpractice, there is a power struggle between practitioner and patient. In truth, Hemingway is examining the racial conflict between early settlers and Native Americans when they had their homes and lives maliciously taken away from them. Dr. Adams as a “conqueror” must exercise his control over the mother’s body, this uninhabited territory to him. Native American have always had a high reverence for their land and held a deep connection to their “Mother Earth”. The indigenous people’s rights to self-govern are on a spiritual basis and this power has been exercised for years to uphold a special role on their planet. In the wake of harsh marginalization, Indian territory and sovereignty are stripped from them, just like the mother’s baby was aggressively cut out of her. Stripped of her humanity, the mother bit Uncle George in her best attempt to retaliate against her conquerors. Uncle George responded to her savage-like behavior with obscenities, calling her a “Damn squaw bitch”(68). He acts in a very barbarous and equally as uncivilized manner as the mother. Right after Dr. Adams finished the procedure, he figured he take a glance at the father and says, “They’re (fathers) usually the worst sufferers in these little affairs” which reiterates how Dr. Adams undermines a mother’s hardship and this beautifully vulnerable time in her life (69).

Similar to a post-game high, Dr. Adams was feeling prideful of his work and proudly says, “That’s one for the medical journal George”(69). The immediate desire to publish this operation in a medical journal draws parallels to how Columbus sent glowing reports back to the king and queens on colonizers’ interactions with the natives. Colonizers typically appropriated territory through written proclamations and they served as the ultimate consecrated form of domination over the Native Americans. The way he rattles off about the operation like how “talkative football players are in the dressing room after game”, illustrates to the reader how Dr. Adams is reveling in his victory similar to the winning football team. The dominant and subordinate dynamic is reestablished when Uncle George sarcastically says, “Oh, you’re great man, all right” which also reinforces the self-glorification Dr. Adams wallows in and how apathetic he is towards the mother’s efforts.

Shortly after, Dr. Adams pulls away the blanket off the Indian to reveal that the Indian has silently slit his throat during the ordeal. This Indian represents the Indians suffering from the cruel hand of Spanish administration. These Indians were succumbing quickly to the harsh treatment and deadly European diseases they brought along. It was indeed the doctor that drove the Indian to kill himself. Dr. Adams imposed onto the mother. Nick has seen his first suicide and is left with many questions such as, “Why did he kill himself, Daddy?” (69) His father responds with such placidity, “I don’t know, Nick. He couldn’t stand things, I guess” (69). Dr. Adams’ passivity echos the similar attitudes that dates back to the earliest periods of westward acquisition. In the colonial viewpoint, “pure” bodies are worthy of protecting and violence to “impure” bodies like Indians are overlooked. This tradition of harming Indian bodies epitomizes how little bodily integrity colonists held for them.

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Hemingway’s indirect and seemingly sparse approach to “Indian Camp” allows the reader to formulate questions that requires looking in depth into his writing. The entirety of the journey to Indian Camp and the demeanor Dr. Adams forces Nick to face adversity with is how Hemingway skillfully historicizes his story to early dates of westward expansion of Indian tribes. The violent acts of a poorly equipped, unsanitary cesarean unveil the monstrosities the white man and Indian man face during colonization. “Indian Camp” presents an alluring symbolic representation of the the vulnerability Indians face against the white man’s mutilation and conquest.  

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Dr. Charlotte Jacobson

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The “Man to Man” Rivalry Of Ernest Hemingway’s “Indian Camp”. (2024, January 31). GradesFixer. Retrieved May 25, 2024, from
“The “Man to Man” Rivalry Of Ernest Hemingway’s “Indian Camp”.” GradesFixer, 31 Jan. 2024,
The “Man to Man” Rivalry Of Ernest Hemingway’s “Indian Camp”. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 25 May 2024].
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