The Inspirations of Ernest Hemingway Ernest Hemingway, like many, utilized his past experiences to develop his own thoughts concerning death, relationships, and lies. He then mixed these ideas, along with familiar settings to create his works. One such example, written early in Hemingways career, is the short story Indian Camp. A brief summary reveals that the main character, a young boy by the name of Nick, travels across a lake to an Indian village.
While at the village Nick observes his father, who is a doctor, deliver a baby to an Indian by cesarean section. As the story continues, Nicks father discovers that the father of the newborn has committed suicide. Soon afterward Nick and his father engage in a discussion about death, which brings the story to an end. In evaluating these scenes, the reader can quite easily discern the meaning of the story in relation to Hemingways life. The characters of Nick and his father reflect the relationship between Hemingway and his own father. Hemingway grew up in a Oak Park, a middle class suburb, under the watchful eye of his parents, Ed and Grace Hemingway.
Ed hemingway was a doctor who occasionally took his son along on professional visits across Walton Lake to the Ojibwa y Indians during summer vacations (Waldhorn 7). These medical trips taken by Ernest and Ed would provide the background information needed for Indian Camp. These trips were not the cornerstone of Hemingways relationship with his father, but they were an essential part of the whole. The two always shared a close father-son bond that Hemingway often portrayed in his writings and Nicks close attachment to his father parallels Hemingways relationship with Ed. The growing boy finds in the father, in both fiction and life, not only a teacher and a guide, but also a refuge from the emotional and spiritual unknown.
In Indian Camp, Nick stays in his fathers arms to gain a sense o security and this reinforces their close father-son relationship. When Nick encounters death, in the form of suicide, his father is right there to comfort him. Hemingways love for his father was not always so positive though, and he often expressed his feelings about his situation through his; literature. When Hemingway was young, his father persuaded him to have his tonsils removed by a friend, Dr. Wesley Peck. Even though it was Doctor peck who performed the painful operation, Hemingway always held it against his father for taking out his tonsils without an anesthetic (Meyers 48).
Hemingway saw the opportunity to portray his father in Indian Camp as the cold-hearted man who had his tonsils yanked out without anesthetic. In a reply to Nicks question about giving the Indian woman something to stop screaming, his father states, No. I havent any anesthetic... But her screams are not important.
I dont hear them because they are not important. (Hemingway 16) Hemingway lashed out at his father one more time before the story ends. In the end of Indian Camp, Hemingway uses the conversation between Nick and his father concerning the death of the Indian in an effort to express his own distaste over his fathers suicide-Why did he kill himself, Daddy I dont know, Nick. He couldnt stand things, I guess. Do many men kill themselves, Daddy Not very many, Nick... Is dying hard, Daddy No, I think its pretty easy, Nick.
It all depends. (Hemingway 19) Hemingway saw his father as a weak working man who served his wife, Grace, unconditionally. Ed worked a full day only to come home and clean house, prepare food, and tend to the children. He had promised Grace that if she married him she would not have to do housework for as long as she live. Ill and depressed, Ed committed suicide in 1928. Hemingway later referred to the situation by stating: I hated my mother as soon as I knew the score and loved my father until he embarrassed me with his cowardice...
My mother is an all time all American bitch and she would make a pack mule shoot himself, let alone poor bloody father. (Meyers 212) Hemingway uses Indian Camp to express his feelings that his father was a coward. He did this by having Nicks father refer to suicide as being pretty easy, which denotes a cowards way out of life. Thus, Hemingway portrays his fathers death as cowardly. It is easy to discern that the characters and setting of Indian Camp are undoubtedly influenced by Hemingways own experiences and childhood. Hemingway later expressed his disgust of home life when he purposely portrayed himself as the character Krebs in Soldiers Home.
Krebs, a World War I veteran, is forced to lie about his experiences and involvement in the war just to be heard by the people in his town: Krebs found that to be listened to at all he had to lie, and after he had done this twice he, too, had a reaction against the war and against talking about it. A distaste for everything that had happened to him during the war set in because of the lies he had told. (Hemingway 69) Krebs, along with Hemingway, fell into a slump after the war. Hemingway, who had been injured during the war, had fallen in love with an American nurse, Agnes Von Kurowsky, while recovering from his injuries.
When Hemingway had healed, he was sent home and Kurowsky fell in love with another. While recalling his lost love Hemingway produced a character troubled by female companionship. Krebs wants a woman, no doubt, but he was not about to work for it. Krebs considers relationships too complicated and painful, something he has learned from a previous encounter. This is no doubt a reference to the relationship of Hemingway and Kurowsky, a relationship that had deeply wounded Hemingway. There is no way that Krebs, and for that matter Hemingway, is about to go through that again.
Krebs continues, without a woman, lying around at home doing little or nothing. Tensions increase between him and his parents and he is eventually driven out. This is approximately the same thing that happened to Hemingway. Hemingways sister, Marcel line, wrote, shortly after his twenty-first birthday... his mother issued an ultimatum that he find a regular job or move out (Waldhorn 9).
Both Hemingway and Krebs moved out and got jobs. Beyond a doubt, Hemingway wrote from experience, drawing upon his own life for the inspiration for many of his stories. In Indian Camp, Hemingway used his own relationship with his father to breathe life into the fictional characters of Nick and his father. And finally, with his return home after the war, Hemingway uses Krebs in Soldiers Home to express his distaste for the home life.
It is clear that in his writings Hemingway truly gave much of himself, as well as utilizing them as an outlet for his own trials and tribulations and the effects they no doubt had on him. Meyers, Jeffery. Hemingway: A Biography. New York: Harper and Row Publishers, 1985. Waldhorn, Arthur.
A Readers Guide to Ernest Hemingway. New York: Octagon Books, 1978. Hemingway, Ernest. In Our Time. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1958..