Study Guide

Indian Camp Quotes

  • Suffering

    She lay in the lower bunk, very big under a quilt. Her head was turned to one side. (10)

    Let's notice a few things here: first, the woman is on the lower bunk, and her husband is on the top. Symbolic of the hierarchy between men and women maybe? Second, the Indian woman's head is turned to the side. And what are we told a few lines down? "The husband in the upper bunk rolled over against the wall" (19). So the woman and her husband are actually in the same position, mirroring one another. Hmm, maybe this contrast is worth exploring more…

    "Oh, Daddy, can't you give her something to make her stop screaming?" asked Nick. (17)

    This quote tells us that the Indian woman is in a world of pain, but it also shows us that Nick doesn't like the sight (or sound) of suffering. Her suffering is making him suffer! Ok, probably not nearly as much. But still—the kid's hurting.

    The husband in the upper bunk rolled over against the wall. (19)

    For someone having a baby, this husband sure doesn't seem all that sympathetic to his wife's plight. On first reading, we probably assume that he's just tired of listening to screaming for the past two days. But in hindsight, we can read a lot more into this line: it occurs right after Nick's father's comment that he doesn't hear the woman's screams because they're not important. This comment is supposed to be a reflection of Nick's dad's manly stoicism in the face of adversity, but the husband clearly is affected. Who would have thought that you could convey all of that just by having a character roll over?

    He bent over the Indian woman. She was quiet now and her eyes were closed. She looked very pale. She did not know what had become of the baby or anything. (36)

    This is really more of a victory for Nick's father than it is for the mother. She's just been operated on without anesthetic, and here is the doctor congratulating himself on a job well done. It's one for the gender-disparity books, that's for sure: Nick's father is acting more like he's the one that just gave birth.

    "Ought to have a look at the proud father. They're usually the worst sufferers in these little affairs," the doctor said. "I must say he took it all pretty quietly." (42)

    You notice how "Nick's father" has now become "the doctor"? It's like he has for the moment stepped out of the role of didactic father and is now Doctor-with-a-capital-D. But he's also now not the only father in the room, so our focus is being shifted to a character whom we didn't think was all that important to the story—but whose suffering, ironically, is about to become very important.

    "Why did he kill himself, Daddy?" "I don't know, Nick. He couldn't stand things, I guess." (50-51)

    Because this is the world of the story (meaning that the Indian man doesn't have a backstory, unless it's in fan fiction), this is just about the best reason we're going to get. The fact is, though, that suicide leaves many unanswered questions. See, Nick's dad is trying to rationalize the man's suicide, because by rationalizing it he regains some kind of control over it. But the rationalization he gives seems shaky at best.

    "Do many men kill themselves, Daddy?"
    "Not very many, Nick."
    "Do many women?"
    "Hardly ever." (52-55)

    Why do you think Nick makes this distinction between men and women instead of just asking "Do many people kill themselves?" Maybe it's because Nick has just witnessed a man's suicide in light of a woman's ostensible suffering. But also, it's a distinction that Nick's dad seems to agree with, because he gives different answers to Nick's questions. So at least for the characters in this story, the act of committing suicide as a way of dealing with suffering seems to be a gendered thing—for better or for worse.

  • Men and Masculinity

    The men had moved off up the road to sit in the dark and smoke out of the range of the noise she made. (10)

    Here we have a very clear separation of genders. Are the men in the house? Nope, they're up the road smoking so that they don't have to deal with all that girly stuff (like the excruciating pain of childbirth). We get a sense of their callousness and their lack of sympathy. We also notice (at least in hindsight) that the husband isn't with them…

    "But her screams are not important. I don't hear them because they are not important." (18)

    Nick's dad is a doctor who gets down to business. Does he let a little thing like screaming distract him? Oh, shmoop no. He is a manly man who doesn't feel feelings. Okay we're exaggerating a bit, but the idea is that fortitude is being able to just turn your emotional responses off (and you'll notice that Nick is just about the only one who does express concern for the Indian woman).

    Later when he started to operate Uncle George and the three Indian men held the woman still. She bit Uncle George on the arm and Uncle George said, "Damn squaw bitch!" and the young Indian who had rowed Uncle George over laughed at him. (25)

    Look at all the different ways that the men react to the Indian woman's pain: they diminish it ("her screams are not important"), they physically restrain her, they call her a bitch, and they laugh. It's like they all have to deal with her suffering by not acknowledging it. Also, you might want to think about her husband's reaction in light of these ones.

    He bent over the Indian woman. She was quiet now and her eyes were closed. She looked very pale. She did not know what had become of the baby or anything. (36)

    This is really more of a victory for Nick's father than it is for the mother. She's just been operated on without anesthetic, and here is the doctor congratulating himself on a job well done. It's one for the gender-disparity books, that's for sure: Nick's father is acting more like he's the one that just gave birth.

    He was feeling exalted and talkative as football players are in the dressing room after a game. (38)

    Okay, a comparison like this one should definitely tip us off to the fact that we are in a boy's club, "No girlz allowed" sign and all. Ironically, Dr. Adams's high comes from the fact that he just delivered a baby—something we tend to congratulate the mother on.

    "Oh, you're a great man, all right," he said. (41)

    Don't you just love backhanded compliments dripping with sarcasm? Uncle George (who, we might add, only has two lines in this story) is providing us with some commentary on Nick's father's behavior; in other words, he knows that it's inflated, and not entirely warranted.

    "I'm terribly sorry I brought you along, Nickie," said his father, all his post-operation exhilaration gone. "It was an awful mess to put you through." (47)

    Now we have a noticeable shift from "the doctor" back to "his father," who calls his son "Nickie" and apologizes. It's a complete 180 from the boastful, unfeeling doctor. But the question is: is it emasculating?

    "Do many men kill themselves, Daddy?"
    "Not very many, Nick."
    "Do many women?"
    "Hardly ever." (52-55)

    Suicide appears to be gendered in this story. Nick's dad may be sugar-coating things a little bit here for little Nick: it's not that women "hardly ever" commit suicide, but that the perception is that such an act of violence against oneself isn't very feminine. It may be that Nick's dad genuinely thinks this, or that he doesn't think that Nick will be able to handle the idea that a woman might do the same thing as what he just saw the Indian man do.

  • Mortality

    She lay in the lower bunk, very big under a quilt. Her head was turned to one side. (10)

    Not very lively, is she? In our discussion of suffering earlier in the "Themes" section we talk about how the Indian woman's pose mirrors the pose of her husband in the top bunk. If we're going to pursue the birth-death comparison (and we are), it would be really easy for us to say something like, "Oh look, she's birth and he's death." Something tells us, though, that Hemingway wouldn't have liked that kind of easy symbolism, because what end does it serve, really? A better question is, if the Indian woman and her husband are birth and death respectively, why are they in the same pose? And why is the Indian woman described as dead-looking after the birth (36)?

    His throat had been cut from ear to ear. The blood had flowed down into a pool where his body sagged the bunk. His head rested on his left arm. The open razor lay, edge up, in the blankets. (43)

    You know what would have been a really boring way of conveying this scene? "The Indian man had slit his throat with a razor." Instead, we see everything in the same order as Nick sees it and we put the pieces together at the same moment he does. Also, the fact that the razor is "edge up"—not laying benignly on its side—is a great touch.

    "Why did he kill himself, Daddy?"
    "I don't know, Nick. He couldn't stand things, I guess." (50-51)

    We're just gonna put it out there that this sounds like a pretty evasive answer. What "things" couldn't he stand? Of course, you can never really know why a person decides to kill themselves (it's too late to ask, after all), but here we see Nick's dad trying to; and his weak answer just reinforces that we're asking for something that we just can't know.

    "Do many men kill themselves, Daddy?"
    "Not very many, Nick."
    "Do many women?"
    "Hardly ever." (52-55)

    Notice how vague answers seem to be a thing with Nick's dad? It's like he's diminishing the reality of suicide for Nick. Sure, he's not going to say "People kill themselves every day, Nick. Lots of people. Now go outside and play with the other kids." But as adults (and young adults) reading this story, we see how he might be sugar-coating it a wee bit.

    "Is dying hard, Daddy?"
    "No, I think it's pretty easy, Nick. It all depends." (62-63)

    Is this supposed to be comforting? Nick's dad seems to be assuaging Nick's fears by telling him that death isn't as scary as it might seem, but it's also a foreboding statement, taken on its own: the word "easy," instead of, say, "painless," makes death sound like it's something that can easily happen.

    In the early morning on the lake sitting in the stern of the boat with his father rowing, he felt quite sure that he would never die. (65)

    Wow, what an ending! And what a way to wrap up with the idea of death. Has death won in this story? Remember, Nick is a young kid, so he comes with that naiveté that lets him ask questions like "Is dying hard, Daddy?" So when he feels like he will never die, we know that it's coming from that same naiveté; at the same time, there is something about it that makes us agree, or want to agree, with Nick. He shouldn't have to face the fact of his own mortality just yet, and maybe the only way for him not to right now is by continuing to see death as a personal impossibility.

  • Innocence

    Nick lay back with his father's arms around him. (3)

    Sounds pretty comforting to us. Safety, security, complete trust—Nick isn't thinking at all about the big mean world. That's something for grown-ups like his dad to worry about. But little does Nick know that the big mean world is waiting for him at the camp.

    "You don't know," said his father. "Listen to me. What she is going through is called being in labor. The baby wants to be born and she wants it to be born. All her muscles are trying to get the baby born. That is what is happening when she screams." (14)

    This reads like a remedial midwife lesson, right? Nick's father may not be prepping him for med school, but he is trying to prepare him for life. In exposing Nick to the "facts of life," Nick's father imposes a rather stoic, matter-of-fact order onto something as scary as childbirth. You can almost hear the implicit "Buck up and face the facts" in this statement.

    Nick did not watch. His curiosity had been gone for a long time. (32)

    Nick isn't as eager to face the harsh world as his father would like him to be. Honestly, though, not wanting to watch someone get stitches doesn't really have a whole lot to do with age or maturity; it's just that Nick's dad seems to think that it builds character to have to face these things without feeling queasy (though he is a doctor, so his point of view might be a little skewed).

    There was no need for that. Nick, standing in the door of the kitchen, had a good view of the upper bunk when his father, the lamp in one hand, tipped the Indian's head back. (45)

    Of all the things to see, Nick has a front-row seat of the Indian man's death. Knowing that Nick tried to avoid seeing the Indian woman's Caesarian procedure, it seems significant that seeing the suicide is unavoidable for him. If we take this metaphorically, is it possible that it says something about how in life we are all eventually forced to confront death?

    "I'm terribly sorry I brought you along, Nickie," said his father, all his post-operation exhilaration gone. "It was an awful mess to put you through." (47)

    Here is Nick's dad trying to comfort him and reassure him that the world in fact is not an awful place (take a look at what we say about this passage under Men and Masculinity earlier in the "Themes" section to see how we read its language). But as you can see, it's a pretty sobering moment, and it seems like maybe Nick's dad won't be able to undo that revelation for his son.

    They were seated in the boat, Nick in the stern, his father rowing. (64)

    You might recall that on their way to the Indian camp, Nick was laying with his father's arms around him (3). Now they are separated, awkwardly sitting in different parts of the boat, his father doing the rowing (like he is re-gaining control). This is actually a really big change, because it shows us that Nick is no longer his father's little boy; and this incident has not only changed Nick, but in the process has also changed his relationship to his father.