Study Guide

Indian Camp

By Ernest Hemingway

Indian Camp Introduction

Many of you probably had the "Daddy, where do babies come from?" talk at some point during your childhoods, but we're guessing that less of you had the "Daddy, why do people kill themselves?" talk. Morbid? Well that's the turn that an attempted parental life-lesson takes in Ernest Hemingway's short story "Indian Camp." "Indian Camp" was part of Hemingway's very first collection of stories, In Our Time, which was published in 1925 when he was only 26 years old. If that doesn't already make you feel like an under-achiever, then you certainly will after you read the story.

When we say that it's a short story, we mean short story. "Indian Camp" is only about five pages long, but that's not why you should read it. A lot happens in five pages. A young boy named Nick witnesses his first birth and his first death, all in the same night, and in the process he gains a new view of his father and indelibly leaves childhood behind. That's one heck of a night in a person's life.

But it's not just any person. "Indian Camp" is the first real story from In Our Time (it's preceded by two vignettes) and, more importantly, it is the very first of what became known as the Nick Adams stories, featuring the same character—Nick Adams—at various stages of his life. Other Nick Adams stories include "Big Two-Hearted River," and "The Killers." In fact, most of the stories in In Our Time are Nick Adams stories, and he appears again and again throughout Hemingway's career. If you like Hemingway, you're going to get to know Nick Adams pretty well. So why not start at the very beginning?

What is Indian Camp About and Why Should I Care?

You might say that "Indian Camp" is where it all begins, and by "it" we mean not only the Nick Adams saga, but also Hemingway's entire career. Many of the themes that are so central to Hemingway's most famous works—novels like A Farewell to Arms and The Sun Also Rises—appear in "Indian Camp," such as masculinity and suicide. But we also see Hemingway's characteristic writing style, which has become something of a staple for any aspiring writer who wants to learn how to do the old show-not-tell trick.

"Indian Camp" is really Hemingway getting his feet wet in the literary world, so to speak. We may know him more as "Papa," one of those Great American Novelists who hangs out with stars like Marlene Dietrich when he's not busy being a wartime ambulance driver or hunting lions in Africa. Because he's such a literary titan, we think less often of Hemingway as a young man, of Hemingway before he was fully-fledged. "Indian Camp" gives us some insight into this Hemingway and, in doing so, shows us that he hit the ground running.

Indian Camp Resources

Websites

Can't get enough Hemingway? You've come to the right place.
The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston houses the Ernest Hemingway Collection, which has a ton of Hemingway's papers, manuscripts, and photographs.

If you're going to Chicago…
… then you should visit the Hemingway Museum (chock full o' memorabilia) and the house where he was born.

Movie or TV Productions

Michael Palin's Hemingway Adventure (1999)
Objectively the best documentary about Hemingway ever made.

Midnight in Paris (2011)
Woody Allen's nostalgic film about the Parisian literati of the 1920s. Hemingway makes an appearance to give the main character (played by Owen Wilson) some tough-love writerly advice.

Articles and Interviews

Hemingway in Michigan
Hemingway spent a lot of childhood vacations at his parents' place in Michigan (the Hemingways lived in Chicago). This article talks about his relationship to Michigan in his stories, and also gives a good early biography.

A New York Times interview with Hemingway from 1940, in which he discusses writing and war
The "latest novel" he's talking about is For Whom the Bell Tolls.

Video

Like Hemingway? Like Monty Python? We've just the thing for you…
Monty Python's Michael Palin is a huge Hemingway fan and did a travel series on him for the BBC. This is an excerpt about Hemingway's experiences during WWI in Italy.

Go to class without changing out of your pajamas!
Yale professor Wai Chee Dimock gives a lecture on Hemingway's In Our Time.

Audio

It's a bird! It's a plane! It's…an audiobook!
For those of you who prefer to get your literature aurally.

…and another audio book
Because sometimes you want a slow-cadenced Englishman to read you Hemingway.

Images

Four-year-old Hemingway holding a rifle
We hope there's parental supervision.

Fifty-three-year-old Hemingway holding a rifle
Some things never change.

Hemingway as a young man in a canoe up in Michigan
Most of Hemingway's fiction was inspired by events in his life.