Study Guide

Indian Camp Men and Masculinity

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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 b****!" 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 b****, 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.

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