March 22, 2005

From Gerald R. Lucas

Comments on Hemingway’s “Indian Camp”

These comments about Hemingway’s “Indian Camp” were forwarded to me from the Hemingway mailing list (Heming-L) by a friend. I thought, since my entry on this subject gets more attention than just about any other, I’d post them here. The email is signed only “Dan,” so if anyone knows the full name of the one who wrote these comments, please let me know.

Recently, I was re-reading “Indian Camp.” First, tho[ugh], I had assembled some of the bits of dialogue from the members here about Uncle George and his possible parentage of the child in the story and listed the evidence:

  1. Why be handing out the cigars if not the father?
  2. Why does she bite George and not another of the men holding her?
  3. Why does he react so sarcastically to Doc (the “great man” remark)?
  4. Why does the story’s narrator, who knows more than any of the characters, only refer to the man in the top bunk as either “the husband” or “the Indian”?
  5. Why does the husband kill himself?
  6. Why does George stay following the birth?

Now some on this list have already rolled their bloodshot eyes and yelled, “Bloody hell, it’s just about a doctor performing a difficult operation.” Well, in profound respect, I think it is more than that, for if it were about an operation, then why do we not witness the operation?

I remembered someone else suggesting that a good way of approaching IOT is to ask students to prove all of the stereotypes of H—he glorifies war, etc. With this in mind, I set out to disprove George being the father.

  1. We have talked about this being an element of cultural appropriation. George takes over what should be some sort of ritualized greeting toward a man come to help the tribe. As other hints of cultural appropriation become evident--where they live, the loss of their ways of life, the inabilities of traditional ways to bring in this birth--this bit of tobacco sharing grows in significance, but alone does not prove anything other than appropriation.
  2. Easy. He was close, holding her shoulder. Of course, there must have been someone on the other shoulder. Why did she not bite him?
  3. It follows with his pretentious behavior (the inability or unwillingness to understand others--the tobacco sharing) that he would bristle at someone else grabbing the spotlight. To this extent, though? Maybe. However, if we read George’s remarks as sarcastic, can Doc’s following remarks also be sarcastic about how fathers are “the worst sufferers in these little AFFAIRS.” Of course not; Doc’s being quite plainly unaware of his brother’s snide remark.
  4. Again, the narrator of a story is privy to information that any or all of the characters are not. “Only Doc calls the Indian in the upper bunk “the father.” “Maybe he does not know, or maybe, again, he is as sarcastic as his brother. “The narrator, possibly quite tellingly, calls the Indian either “the husband” or “the Indian.” “Someone else can disprove this tidbit.
  5. He kills himself because he cannot stand his wife’s pain. Here is a man who lives in the woods, whose life is a physical battle (I’m assuming here, but nothing indicates otherwise) with the often painful powers of nature, whose survival in nature is a matter of determination, and he cannot take listening to someone elses pain. I don’t know. Maybe he recognizes how serious his position is, but it may be no more serious than his wife’s and she survives through the efforts of this white doctor. Maybe he is reacting in embarrassment to his own ineffectuality or to the elements of cultural appropriation that he is witnessing (even if he may not be able to articulate them as such) -- he has failed in his position as the man by even being inside the room where his wife is giving birth, other men are assisting in what should traditionally be a woman’s place, the white man’s medicine has proven more powerful than his own. That could be. Like the tobacco, then, another element of appropriation.
  6. Can’t say. Whiskey maybe, good fishing. H can’t think of a way to incorporate him in the leaving so he leaves George. In a story that is as tight as this one, where nothing is sloppy, I can’t figure the reason, Here, as with #4, someone else can disprove.

Sorry. After this, and I will admit I began with a bias, I still see George as the father. At the least, and I am willing to acknowledge that this may also be the most, H presents a story of cultural appropriation through the actions of George and Doc. If, however, we agree on this point, then how far is it of a stretch to consider George-as-father as the ultimate element of cultural appropriation, cultural destruction even.