Screaming through Silence: The Violence of Race in "Indian Camp" and "The Doctor and the Doctor's Wife."(short Stories by Ernest Hemingway)

By Strong, Amy Lovell | The Hemingway Review, Fall 1996 | Go to article overview

Screaming through Silence: The Violence of Race in "Indian Camp" and "The Doctor and the Doctor's Wife."(short Stories by Ernest Hemingway)


Strong, Amy Lovell, The Hemingway Review


IN HER RECENT WORK of literary criticism, Playing in the Dark, Toni Morrison calls our attention to the way critics have ignored an abiding Africanist presence that weaves its way through the works of white American authors:

There seems to be a more or less tacit agreement among literary scholars

that, because American literature has been clearly the preserve of

white male views, genius, and power, those views, genius, and power

are without relationship to and removed from the overwhelming presence

of black people in the United States.... The contemplation of this

black presence is central to any understanding of our national literature

and should not be permitted to hover at the margins of the literary

imagination. (5)

While my focus in this essay will be on the lack of an Indian (rather than Africanist) presence, I will explore the ways Hemingway negotiates the matter of "race" and racial difference in two short stories from In Our Time. Like recent readings of Hemingway's fiction which have begun to outline issues of "gender trouble,"(1) my work will center on two of his earliest short stories, "Indian Camp" and "The Doctor and the Doctor's Wife," to examine how Hemingway represents the instability of racial identity. In the first story, he presents race simply as a biological feature, but then in the second revises this model to create a complex, shifting depiction of race that anticipates the essentialist/constructionist debates Waged today.(2) Secondarily, I hope this study might begin to uncover the ways his work has interrogated power relations built on racial identity, and even exposed the instability of power based on such a system of inequality.

Critics have long been aware of the Edenic and, more specifically, Adamic longings to be found in Hemingway's work, longings he shares with American writers such as Whitman, Hawthorne, and Melville. The Nick Adams stories, with their obvious gesture toward this tradition, have generated a number of comments on the symbolism of the name "Adams," but most critics seem to have internalized R.W.B. Lewis's formulation in The American Adam that to be Adamic is to efface racial history.(3) Quoting from an 1839 Democratic Review, Lewis defines the Adamic myth: "Our national birth was the beginning of a new history ... which separates us from the past and connects us with the future only" (5). Traditionally, "Indian Camp" and "The Doctor and the Doctor's Wife" have been read as tales of initiation, focusing heavily on the final scene in "Indian Camp" and Nick's musing that "he felt quite sure that he would never die" (19), and/or on the unity between father and son in "The Doctor and the Doctor's Wife" when they choose to seek out black squirrels together.(4) To be sure, the Indians in these stories have been characterized, often as symbols of darkness and primitivism, but even this characterization functions primarily to offset Nick's character. My argument is not specifically with the way critics have characterized the Indians (although that racial subtext should be examined). It is rather that Hemingway's stories do, in fact, present an Adamic figure whose identity cannot be fully understood without historicizing his relation to these Indians--a relation based on racial domination. What takes place within these two stories is a male-male rivalry, white male against Indian male, where the endangered territory returns to eerily familiar historical subjects/catalysts for violence: the woman's body and the land. In the opening scene of "Indian Camp,' we find Nick, Dr. Adams, and Uncle George being ferried across a lake through a gloomy, misty darkness. Joseph DeFalco points out that "the classical parallel is too obvious to overlook, for the two Indians function in a Charon-like fashion in transporting Nick, his father, and his uncle from their own sophisticated and civilized world of the white man into the dark and primitive world of the camp" (161).

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