One night, Dr. Adams is summoned to help an American Indian woman who has been in painful labor for two days. The doctor takes his young son, Nick, and his brother, George, to the American Indian camp on the other side of a northern Michigan lake. There, the doctor performs impromptu, improvised cesarean with a fishing knife, catgut, and no anesthetic to deliver the baby. Afterward, he discovers that the woman's husband, who was in the bunk above hers, silently cut his throat during the painful ordeal.
This story is a good example of the "initiation story," a short story that centers around a main character who comes into contact with an idea, experience, ritual, or knowledge that ...view middle of the document...
Using his fishing jackknife as a scalpel, Dr. Adams performs a cesarean on the woman, delivers the baby boy, then sews up the woman's incision with some gut leader line from his fishing tackle. Exhilarated by the success of his impromptu, improvised surgery, Doctor Adams looks into the top bunk and discovers that the young American Indian husband, who listened to his wife screaming during her labor pains and during the cesarean, has cut his throat.
Although this very short story deals with violence and suffering, with birth and death, sexism and racism, Hemingway's emphasis is not on the shocking events themselves; instead, Hemingway shows the effect of birth and death on young Nick Adams. Nick's progression in this short story is vividly portrayed in polarities. For instance, on the way to the camp in the boat, Nick is sitting in his father's arms; on the way back, Nick sits on the opposite end of the boat. Similarly, while his father wants Nick to witness the birth (and his surgical triumph), Nick turns his head away; when the American Indian husband is discovered dead in his bed, Nick sees it, even though his father wants to protect him from it. The fact that Nick sits across from his father in the boat on the way back after this experience can indicate a pulling out from underneath his father's influence.
The young boy asks his father why the young American Indian man cut his throat and is told, "I don't know. . . . He couldn't stand things, I guess." However, there are more subtle undercurrents for the American Indian husband's suicide as well. The treatment and attitude of Dr. Adams toward the woman, who is an American Indian, are key also. When Dr. Adams tells Nick that her screaming is not important, it is at this point that the American Indian husband rolls over in his bunk toward the shanty wall, as he is found later, after slitting his own throat with a razor. While this failure to confront the events at hand indicates fear, it can also indicate the American Indian husband's resignation to the thoughtless racism of the White men who have come to help her.
Some have suggested that Uncle George is possibly the father of the child, as he seems to have a friendly relationship with...