Indian Camp: the Perfect Short Story

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Indian Camp: The Perfect Short Story

In his analysis of Hemingway’s short stories, William Watson defines a perfect short story as one having a “fully developed character, a powerful drama whose resolution we fearfully anticipate, and a point of view that seems wholly natural and realistic.” In Indian Camp, Hemingway uses several motifs in order to delineate the maturation of Nick and the conflict between the father and son with a convincing tone. Specifically, the contrasts between light and darkness reflect developments in Nick’s maturity and character, while the changes in dialogue between Nick and his father indicate a mysterious drama. In addition, the descriptions of the seating positions on the boats symbolize his emotions and viewpoint.

The most obvious shift symbolizes the development of Nick and his maturity. The day becomes progressively brighter throughout the story, in concert with Nick’s so-called coming of age. When the story starts, Nick is “in the dark”, both literally and metaphorically; he has no idea what he is about to go through. However, after Nick’s witnessing of the operation, Hemingway writes that “it was just beginning to be daylight,” since Nick had been exposed to extreme emotional trauma, including the husband’s suicide, and had matured as a result. Also, each of the individual experiences that act as catalysts for Nick’s maturation involves some sort of illumination, especially lamps and lanterns. For example, when the doctor checks on the Indian father, he “mounted on the edge of the lower bunk with the lamp in one hand,” and when the three enter the house of the woman in labor, “an old woman stood in the doorway holding a lamp.” These incidents all come together to define and develop Nick’s personality and character, in place of formal character description.

As with any story, long or short, the central crisis must be compelling and gripping. The most significant conflict in Indian Camp is between Nick and his father,...
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