Coming-Of-Age, Family Drama
Hey, coming of age doesn't just happen all at once. It's more of a growing process. Eh? Anybody? Anybody?
"Indian Camp" screams coming-of-age story because we see young Nick coming one step closer to becoming a disillusioned adult. Really, though, all adults are disillusioned when compared to bright-eyed young kids. Santa not being real? Disillusionment. The stark reality of death? Also disillusionment, but, like, way more. It makes sense, though: as you get older, you get exposed to more things, and you learn more about the world you live in. A coming-of-age story is about those moments when you have to leave the comfort of childhood because life won't let you stay there forever… or, you know, because your dad decides today's a good day to come and watch an emergency C-section.
In the "Setting" section we talk about how Nick leaves the Indian camp changed—almost like he's a different person than the Nick who went in (but not in the creepy Pet Sematary sense). He has learned something about the world that he really can't unlearn, and this makes him more experienced. At the same time, he's not a complete adult just yet; his last thought in the story is about how death for him is still this distant and impossible thing. It shows us that Nick still has a long way to go, but it also reminds us that life only moves in one direction.
"Indian Camp" is also about the relationship between Nick and his father. Essentially Nick's dad loses some street cred with his son when it's revealed that he actually isn't as in control of everything as he initially seems to be. The most telling instance of this idea is when Nick's father apologizes to him after the incident:
"I'm terribly sorry I brought you along, Nickie," said his father, all his post-operative exhilaration gone. (47)
Nickie? That's a nickname (get it? Nickname?) we haven't heard yet. It's like Dr. Adams is suddenly trying to push his son back toward some sort of childhood innocence, undoing the revelation that sometimes people commit suicide.
Essentially, if you thought that things were tense between Nick and his dad before the suicide, they definitely are afterward. The tables turn on pretty much every level. Before, Nick had to listen to his father; after, Nick's father answers to him. You might also want to compare how Nick and his dad sit on the boat ride into the Indian camp to how they sit on the way back (be sure to head over to our "Themes" section and see what we've got to say about innocence). Ever been in an awkward car ride with one of your parents? Think of this as the 1924 edition of that.