Indian Camp by Ernest Hemingway

Indian Camp - Ernest HemingwayIn Indian Camp by Ernest Hemingway we have the theme of innocence, brutality, mortality, control (or dominance) and connection. Taken from his The Complete Short Stories collection the story is narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator and after reading the story the reader realises that Hemingway may be exploring the theme of innocence. Throughout the story there is a sense that Nick does not fully understand what is happening. From the young Indian woman giving birth to her husband’s death Nick doesn’t appear to fully comprehend what is happening or what is meant to happen. For example Nick doesn’t realise that when a baby is born it is head first. Also after they are leaving the camp Nick asks his father several questions which highlight just how innocent he is. He asks his father ‘do many men kill themselves?’ This line is important as it suggests that the Indian’s death is the first suicide that Nick has witnessed or come across. Nick’s final question to his father is also interesting as it further highlights his innocence. By asking his father ‘is dying hard Daddy?’ the reader gets a sense that Nick has no comprehension whatsoever about death. Nor does his father explain to him the complexity of death preferring instead to allow Nick to remain innocent.

There is also a sense of brutality in the story. Not only does the Indian kill himself (possibly needlessly) but Nick’s father though he is a doctor does not have the proper medical tools to perform a caesarean. It is also interesting that Nick’s father is proud of his operation on the young Indian woman the reader sensing that his pride is more important than how the young Indian woman may be feeling. It might also be a case that Hemingway by using the Indian camp as the setting of the story is also highlighting how isolated American Indians were from the rest of the community (or settlers). It is also possible that by having the young Indian woman’s husband kill himself that Hemingway is symbolically placing a spotlight on the brutality that existed when it came to the treatment of American Indians by white settlers. If anything the American Indian was dominated by the white settlers that settled in America. Removed from their land and placed in reservations (Indian Camp). Just as the young Indian woman’s stomach is ripped apart by Nick’s father likewise American Indians also had their homes taken away from them.

It is also interesting that there is only one other woman in the room while the young Indian woman is in labour. Everybody else is a man (or boy in Nick’s case). This may be important as labour would be a very female act yet Hemingway has the room full of males. It is possible that by having the room full of men Hemingway is again playing on the theme of domination on this occasion the male dominating the female. It may also be important that Nick’s father tells those in the room that when he comes back in the morning there will be a nurse with him and ‘she’ll bring everything we need.’ It is possible that by including this line into the story Hemingway is highlighting the importance of having another female witness and helping out with the birth of a child. Someone who can connect with the expectant mother. Throughout the story there is no sense that Nick’s father is able to connect with the young Indian mother or any of the other Indians.

George on the other hand appears to have no problem connecting with the Indians. This connection is first noticeable when he gives two of the Indians a cigar. Also he helps hold the young Indian woman still along with some of the other Indians. This act may be important as it suggests that George is prepared to do as the other Indians are doing.  It is also noticeable that he is missing at the end of the story, his location unknown. All that is known is that he has decided to stay at the Indian camp while Nick and his father return to town. Though the reader does not know what George is doing at the camp the important thing to remember is that he stayed behind. He is spending time with the Indians.

The end of the story is also interesting as symbolically Hemingway may be further exploring the theme of innocence. Despite the sun coming up over the hills, which would normally suggest an enlightenment or an awareness Hemingway has Nick’s father rowing away from the camp with Nick sitting in the stern. If anything Nick is being directed or guided by his father. The final line of the story is also interesting ‘he felt quite sure that he would never die’. By including this line into the story Hemingway manages to reinforce the idea of Nick being innocent. He has learnt nothing from his experience at the Indian camp. He remains as innocent as he was before he set out for the camp. Still without any idea as to why the young Indian woman’s husband killed himself or more importantly as to why anybody would decide to kill themselves.

Cite Post
McManus, Dermot. "Indian Camp by Ernest Hemingway." The Sitting Bee. The Sitting Bee, 3 May. 2016. Web.


  • What I find striking is the juxtaposition of birth and death in the same moment and even in the same bunk bed. Both descriptions are vividly violent.

    Second, I love the irony foreshadow of the father and son in the same canoe paddling through the morning mist against the current talking of suicide and not knowing that the boy (Ernest Hemingway) and the father (Dr. Hemingway, Ernest’s dad) both ended up killing themselves years by gunfire years later. Eerily predicting the future, Hemingway unwittingly adds another layer.

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment and extra insight Jay. I hadn’t thought about both death and birth occurring in the same place. Also I don’t know a lot about Hemingway’s life so it’s nice to get that little bit of further insight.

  • Why does Nick feel he is not going to die?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Nick is still a young boy and his belief that he is not going to die is based on his innocence. He may not feel as though what he has witnessed relates to him. If anything due to his youth Nick would not have a full understanding of the hardships of life.

      • Or it could also mean that Nick has decided to face life through all its struggles and pain. Unlike the husband…who died. Through the story he seems to be losing innocence and becoming more of a “man”.

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