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 he did not previously know. Hemingway wrote a number of initiation stories, or as they are sometimes referred to, "rite of passage" stories, and the main character in most of these stories is Nick Adams, a young man much like Hemingway himself.
In this story, Nick Adams is a very young boy in the Michigan north woods, accompanying his father, Dr. Adams, and his uncle George to an American Indian camp on the other side of a lake. Hemingway's own father was a doctor, who spent much time with his son in the northern woods of Michigan (most critics read this story as somewhat autobiographical). Here, a very young Nick is initiated into concepts that remained of highest importance to Hemingway throughout his writing career: life and death; suffering, pain, and endurance; and suicide.
Nick's father goes to the American Indian camp to help a young American Indian woman who has been screaming because of severe labor pains for two days, still unable to deliver her baby. When Dr. Adams arrives, she is lying in a bottom bunk; her husband, who cut his foot badly with an axe three days before, is lying in the bunk bed above her. Doctor Adams asks Nick to assist him, holding a basin of hot water while four American Indian men hold down the woman. Using his fishing...
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