Essay, Research Paper: Indian Camp By Hemingway

Literature: Ernest Hemingway

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Ernest Hemingway pulled from his past present experiences to develop his own
thoughts concerning death, relationships, and lies. He then mixed these ideas,
along with a familiar setting, to create a masterpiece. One such masterpiece
written early in Hemingway's career is the short story, "Indian Camp."
"Indian Camp" was originally published in the collection of "in
Our Time" in 1925. A brief summary reveals that the main character, a
teenager by the name of Nick, travels across a lake to an Indian village. While
at the village Nick observes his father, who is a doctor, deliver a baby to an
Indian by caesarian section. As the story continues, Nick's father discovers
that the newborn's father has committed suicide. Soon afterward Nick and his
father engage in a discussion about death, which brings the story to an end.
With thought and perception a reader can tell the meaning of the story. The
charters of Nick and his father resemble the relationship of Hemingway and his
father. Hemingway grew up in Oak Park, a middle class suburb, under the watchful
eye of his parents, Ed and Grace Hemingway. Ed Hemingway was a doctor who
"occasionally took his son along on professional visits across Walloon Lake
to the Ojibway Indians" during summer vacations (Waldhorn 7). These medical
trips taken by Ernest and Ed would provide the background information needed to
introduce nick and his father while on their medical trip in "Indian
Camp." These trips were not the center point of affection between Ed and
Ernest, but they were part of the whole. The two always shared a close
father-son bond that Hemingway often portrayed in his works: Nick's close
attachment to his father parallels Hemingway's relationship with Ed. The growing
boy finds in the father, in both fiction and life, not only a teacher-guide but
also a fixed refuge against the terrors of the emotional and spiritual unknown
as they are encountered. In his father Ernest had someone to lean on (Shaw 14).
In "Indian Camp," nick stays in his father's arms for a sense of
security and this reinforces their close father-son relationship. When Nick sees
the terror of death, in the form of suicide, his father is right there to
comfort him. From this we are able to see how Nick has his father to, physically
and mentally, "lean" on, much like Hemingway did (Shaw 11).
Hemingway's love for his father was not always so positive though, and he often
expressed his feelings about his situation though his literature. When
Hemmingway was young, his father persuaded him to have his tonsils removed by a
friend, Dr. Wesley Peck. Even though it was Dr. Peck who performed the painful
operation, Hemingway "always held it against his father for taking out his
tonsils without an anaesthetic" (Meyers 48). Hemingway saw the opportunity
to portray his father in "Indian Camp" as the cold-hearted man who had
his tonsils yanked out without anaesthetic. In a reply to Nick's question about
giving the Indian woman something to stop screaming, his father states,
"No. I haven't any anaesthetic…But her screams are not important. I don't
hear them because they are not important." (Tessitore 18) Hemingway lashed
out at his father one more time before the story ends. In "Indian
Camp," Hemingway uses the conversation between Nick and his father,
concerning the suicide of the Indian, to show his distaste for his own father's
suicide: 'Why did he kill himself, Daddy?' 'I don't know Nick.' 'He couldn't
stand things, I guess.' 'Do many men kill themselves, Daddy?' 'Not very many,
Nick…' 'Is dying hard, Daddy?' 'No, I think its pretty easy, Nick. It all
depends.' (Hemingway 19) Hemingway saw his father as a weak working man who
served his wife, Grace, unconditionally. Ed worked a full day to come home to
clean house, prepare food, and tend to the children. He had promised Grace that
if she would marry him, she would not have to do housework for as long as he
lived. Ill and depressed, Ed committed suicide in 1928. Hemingway later referred
to the situation by stating: "I hated my mother as soon as I knew the score
and loved my father until he embarrassed me with his cowardice…My mother is an
all time all American bitch and she would make a pack mule shoot himself, let
alone poor bloody father." (Meyers 212) Hemingway uses "Indian
Camp" to express his feelings that his father was a coward. He did this by
having Nick's father refer to suicide as being "pretty easy," which is
comparable to a coward's way out of life. Therefore, Hemingway uses the story to
portray his father's death as cowardly. The characters and setting of
"Indian Camp" are undoubtedly influenced by Hemingway's Childhood. In
much of the same respect, Hemingway's second novel, A Farewell to Arms, has
influences from his adult years spent in the war. A Farewell to Arms is a tragic
love story in the midst of war. The main character, Fredrick Henry, is an
ambulance driver in World War I who is wounded in the trenches. Henry, now a
casualty, is sent to recover at an American hospital in Milan. During his stay,
henry falls in love with a nurse by the name of Catherine Barkley. The couple
then heads for Switzerland to escape the war and have a child. The novel takes
an evil twist at the end though. Catherine dies while she is in labor, leaving
Henry alone in the world. When comparing Ernest Hemingway and the character
Frederick Henry, there are some very obvious resemblances. After not being
allowed to join the army due to bad vision in his left eye, Hemingway joined the
war effort during 1918 in Italy as an ambulance driver. Likewise, Hemingway made
sure that Henry was also an ambulance driver in A Farewell to Arms. The most
noticeable similarity is Hemingway's war wound. While passing out chocolate and
cigarettes to soldiers at night, Hemingway was hit by a mortar shell. Wounded,
but not dead, Hemingway picked up an nearby casualty and began carrying him off
the battlefield. He succeeded in making it to the first aid center but was hit
in the knees by machine-gun fire while on his journey. During his recover in
Milan, Hemingway recorded his firsthand account of the action in a letter
written to his parents. In it he stated: The 227 wounds I got from the trench
mortar didn't hurt a bit at the time, only my feet felt like I had rubber boots
full of water on. Hot water. And my kneecap was acting queer. (Meyers 32)
Hemingway survived a terrifying attack, which would serve as great material for
A Farewell to Arms. In the novel, Henry suffers from an identical wound by a
trench mortar. Henry states that: My legs felt warm and wet and my shoes were
wet and warm inside. I knew that I was hit and leaned over and put my hand on my
knee. My knee wasn't there. My hand went in and my kneed was down on my shin.
(Hemingway 55) Hemingway recalled his war wound and wrote of the same experience
in the novel. In both the novel and real life, it is easy to visualize the same
picture of the wound, so bloody that Hemingway's own shoes filled up with warm
blood. Hemingway does not stop there with his similarities though. He digs
further into the past to create the love that exists between characters
Frederick henry and Catherine Barkley. In the war, Hemingway was sent to Milan
to recover from his injuries. During his stay at the hospital, he fell in love
with an American nurse by the name of Agnes von Kurowsky. The two were very
affectionate in their love and wrote letters to each other when separated.
Kurowsky even signed up to work nights so that she could spend more time with
Hemingway. There was even a possibility of marriage, which later fizzled out.
When Hemingway healed, he was sent home and Kurowsky fell in love with another,
a devastating event that haunted Hemingway long after. (McDowell 20) Kurowsky
did not come out ahead though; her newfound love dissolved only after a short
while. In much the same way as Hemingway's life, the character Henry falls in
love with Catherine. After being wounded by a trench mortar, Henry is also sent
to Milan to recover from his injuries. While at Milan, he becomes romantically
involved with Catherine and the two marry. Even though Hemingway and Kurowsky
did not marry, the marriage of Henry and Catherine is a prelude to a more
devastating event. The sexual activity of the couple leads to the pregnancy of
Catherine, which convinces them to leave the war. During childbirth, Catherine
dies, thus leaving Henry all alone in the world: "In the novel, though not
in actual life, the submissive Catherine . . . is 'punished' by death in
childbirth" (Meyers 41). The reason for this variation between real life
and the novel is based on how Hemingway felt at the time. Apparently to
Hemingway, Kurowsky was not punished enough for her deceit toward him. With his
feelings full-blown, Hemingway produced a character that suffered the way he
felt she should suffer. From the wounds to the love affair, "it is fair to
say that the book is the crystallization of the war experiences" (Shaw 54).
After the war, Hemingway returned to Oak Park for a brief stay at home. Mentally
and physically hurt from his war wounds and failing romance with Kurowsky,
Hemingway entered into an idle part of his life. All the returning soldiers had
great war stories; most of them embellished beyond truth. Hemingway fell into
this norm of lying about war experiences, which eventually made him sick of
disgust: The deceptions he practices at home . . . uncomfortably remind him of
the lies he and others have been forced to tell in order to sensationalize for
home consumption the dull reality of war. (Meyers 55) Hemingway was later able
to reflect his disgust of home life when he purposely portrayed himself as the
character Krebs in "Soldier's Home". Krebs, a World War I veteran, is
forced to lie about his involvement in the war just to be heard: Krebs found
that to be listened to at all he had to lie, and after he had done this twice
he, too, had a reaction against the war and against talking about it. A distaste
for everything that had happened to him in the war set in because of the lies he
had told. (Hemingway 69) Krebs, along with Hemingway, fell into a slump after
the war. While recalling his lost love of Agnes von Kurowsky, Hemingway produced
a character troubled by female companionship. Krebs wants a woman, no doubt, but
he was not about to work for it. Krebs considers relationships too complicated
and painful, something he has learned from a previous engagement. This previous
engagement was the relationship of Hemingway and Kurowsky, a relationship that
had badly hurt Hemingway. There is no way that Krebs, nor Hemingway, is about to
go through that again. Krebs continues, without a woman, lying around at home
doing little or nothing. Tensions deepen between him and his parents and he is
eventually driven out. This is approximately the same thing that happened to
Hemingway. Hemingway's sister, Marcelline, wrote, "shortly after his
twenty-first birthday . . . his mother issued an ultimatum that he find a
regular job or move out" (Waldhorn 9). Both Hemingway and Krebs moved out
and got jobs. Beyond a doubt, Hemingway wrote from his past experiences. In
"Indian Camp," Hemingway used his own relationship with his father to
breathe life into the fictional characters of Nick and his father. By leaving
his childhood and entering the war, Hemingway recalled his own accounts of
injuries and love that made up the character Henry and Barkley in A Farewell to
Arms. And finally, with his return home after the war, Hemingway uses Krebs in
"Soldier's Home" to express his distaste for the home life.

Gajduske, E. Robert. Hemingway's Paris. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons,
1978. Mahoney, John. Ernest Hemingway. New York: Barnes and Noble INC., 1967.
McSowell, Nicholas. Life and Works of Hemingway. England: Wayland, 1988. Meyers,
Jeffery. Hemingway: A Biography. New York: Harper and Row Publishers, 1985.
Shaw, Samuel. Ernest Hemingway. New York: Fredrick Ungar Publishing Company,
1974. Tessitore, John. The Hunt and The Feast, A life of Ernest Hemingway. New
York: Franklin Watts, 1996. Waldhorn, Arthur. A Reader's Guide to Ernest
Hemingway. New York: Octagon Books, 1978. Hemingway, Ernest. "Indian
Camp". In Our Time. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons. 1970. Hemingway,
Ernest. A Farewell to Arms. New York: Simon & Schuster. 1995.
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