“I Wish I had Some Indian Blood”:
Hemingway’s Primitivism and the Ojibwa Pimadaziwin Paradigm

Peter Rooney

“Thus in the beginning all the world was America, and more so than it is now.”

John Locke, The Second Treatise of Government

“Here among the simple aborigines, the only real Americans, he had found that true communion.” 

Hemingway, The Torrents of Spring

While Hemingway’s primitivism spans a number of geographic locations, each with its own signature, it is his affiliation with Native Americans that forms its foundation. Indeed, Hemingway’s Indian clusters mark a starting point in his quest for primal authenticity, a pursuit that informs his oeuvre.  Traditional conceptions of primitivism usually have bipolar purposes: the white male who encounters the primitive either juxtaposes it in order to justify his own Western superiority, or learns from its mysticism and gains insights that his own (limited) culture cannot offer.  As Marianna Torgovnick suggests, “since ancient times…primitive peoples had excited…two broad kinds of reactions in the West: fear and horror at the primitives’ paganism, licentiousness, and violence [or] admiration for their communal life and idyllic closeness to nature” (Primitive Passions 13).  Hemingway’s primitivism, I propose, is more nuanced than this; indeed, his indigenous people are portrayed in realist terms, often depicted colluding with the white man and thus participating in their own destruction.  For Hemingway, both whites and Native Americans contribute to the destruction of the American landscape, resulting in severed bonds with the primitive.  Critics since Robert Penn Warren have linked the Hemingway hero to the Western cowboy: James Plath, for instance, believes the Hemingway hero to be an adaptation of Owen Wister’s The Virginian, contending that “the Western hero and the Hemingway ‘code’ hero bear a striking resemblance to one another” (71-72).  Characters such as Nick Adams and Robert Jordan, however, suggest a more complex version of the Hemingway hero. As I will demonstrate, the code hero is both cowboy and Indian, a rogue-rider who nonetheless engages in communion with nature.    When read chronologically, “Indian Camp,” “The Doctor and the Doctor’s Wife,” “Big Two-Hearted River,”  “Ten Indians” and “Fathers and Sons” form a serial bildungsroman, tracing the decline and displacement of the Native American in tandem with Nick Adam’s primary developmental stages: youth, adolescence, young adulthood and fatherhood.  Hemingway both explores the demise of the original American primitive (the Indian) and posits Nick Adams as its possible replacement.

The first story in the collection In Our Time, “Indian Camp,” marks both a literal and figurative starting point for Hemingway, tracing decline and creation, innocence and experience.  Hemingway explores the degradation of the Native American and the subsequent weakening state of the American primitive and the ways in which these impact on the development of American identity.  Torgovnick points out that, “primitives, as often as not, do not vanish but change into the urban poor, and thus can no longer serve as a locus for our powerful longings precisely because they have entered our own normative conditions of urban life” (Gone Primitive 192).  While the specific tribe in “Indian Camp” is never identified, in later stories Hemingway’s Indians are acknowledged as the Ojibwa, or Anishinaabe (the original people).  Hemingway’s portrayal of the Ojibwa is naturalistic, replacing the traditional Anishinaabe weegiwahm, or lodge, with an impoverished shanty “camp,” exemplifying Torgovnick’s thesis of primitive adaptation. Hemingway’s Ojibwa, however, are in a state of transition, no longer the noble savage in communion with nature and not yet the urban poor that Torgovnick forecasts.  Hemingway’s Ojibwa are forced to sever their bond with nature and work in the logging industry. This economic expediency has dire consequences, both wounding and silencing the tribe, their scars and loss of language strong indicators of cultural degradation. Concurrently, in exploring the downfall of the Native American, Hemingway examines the nascent development of Nick Adams, portraying his character as a vital component in the development of a new American primitive.

Not a word of dialogue is uttered by an Indian in the course of “Indian Camp,” an emblematic consequence of their fall from grace from collusion with the logging industry, unable, therefore, to espouse any primitivist wisdom, the vast and sacred oral tradition of the Anishinaabe is symbolically silenced. Hemingway describes the characters arrival at the Indian camp: “They came round a bend and a dog came out barking.  Ahead were the lights of the shanties where the Indian bark-peelers lived.  More dogs rushed out at them” (85-86). Playing on the word bark, Hemingway conflates the barking dogs with the “Indian bark-peelers” suggesting not only that the two cohabitate the same space, but also that as a result of participating in de-forestation, these Indians have sacrificed their bark, their voice. Traditional Ojibwa culture specifically dictates that dogs and humans must not inhabit the same space during sacred ceremonies such as a baby’s delivery (Benton-Bani, 9), thus reinforcing the degradation of beliefs and custom that this story exposes. 

Hemingway continues and confuses this theme when he describes the Indian woman giving birth: “Later, when he started to operate Uncle George and three Indian men held the woman still.  She bit Uncle George on the arm and Uncle George said, ‘Damn squaw bitch!’”(87). Here, the Indian woman represents both sacred vessel and symbolic theriomorphic breach of custom. In one respect, the Indian woman characterizes Toni Morrison’s notion of metaphysical condensation, or “transform[ing] social and historical differences into universal differences.  Collapsing persons into animals prevent[ing] human contact and exchange; equating speech with grunts or other animal sounds closes off the possibility of communication” (Playing in the Dark 68).  In a story, however, where silence is synonymous with a disjointed relationship with the land and a consequent loss of cultural tradition, the woman is the only Indian that makes noise; indeed, her screams are so powerful that “the men had moved off up the road to sit in the dark and smoke out of the range of the noise she made” (86).  The breech birth is indicative of Hemingway’s Indian’s situation: as participants in the destruction of their natural landscape they find themselves “backwards” and “unnatural.”  The (male) baby is born “backwards” thus symbolizing the 20th century Indian’s inverted relationship with nature.  Hemingway further suggests that if the Indian woman retains a tenuous relationship with nature, her male counterpart has quite literally suffered a severance from it:  “In the upper bunk was her husband.  He had cut his foot badly with an ax three days before” (86).  By aligning the husband’s wound with an instrument of deforestation, “an ax,” Hemingway creates an emblematic symbol for the unnatural relationship between Indian and the land. Like Jake Barnes in The Sun Also Rises and Harry in “The Snows of Kilimanjaro,” the male Indian is a representation of the Philoctetes myth, symbolising a wounded warrior in a state of physical paralysis. The Indian’s wound is a symbolic castration, suggesting that as a result of being displaced on his own land, and participating in the destruction of the forest, he has forfeited his masculinity as well as his bond with nature. Given that he and his wife occupy separate beds, or “bunks,” suggests that he has also lost a sexual connection with her. Hemingway expands on the couple’s mirroring and reflecting in the wounds suffered throughout the birthing period: her caesarean cut reflects his cut throat, the jack-knife used on her mirrors the razor used on himself, similar instruments used for diametrically opposed means.  In the end, the effect on both Indians is silence. Hemingway’s story affords us a symbolically castrated Indian male and a female forced to have a caesarean operation.

Hemingway’s primitivism deals primarily with nature and topography and, in particular, an individual’s connection to that topography.  Hemingway offers in Nick the possibility of a new American, an American more in tune with his natural surroundings and less concerned with materialism, arguably, a new first American.  As Tony Tanner argues, “ If there is a symbolic first man in the world hidden inside the name ‘Adams’ it is only because Nick retains that essential integrity of the senses even when confronted with the most brutal disillusioning senses”(242).  New, nascent and becoming, Hemingway’s Adam is the emblematic son of the colonizer, representing the possibility of what neither his father (the colonizer) nor the silenced Indians (the colonized) could provide: lessons on harmonious communion with nature, natural life experiences that would prove essential in his development into adulthood. 

The gruesome scene of the childbirth depicts three men holding the Indian woman down while Nick’s father performs “a caesarean with a jack-knife and sewing it up with nine-foot tapered gut leaders” (88), in effect reducing the woman to the state of a caught and gutted fish.  Nick’s role in this grisly scene involves a loss of innocence, forcing his entrance into the state of experience and contributing to his development as a sentient Hemingway hero. The blind brutality of the Indian woman’s delivery is replaced with Nick’s visual observation of her husband’s silent suicide: Nick experiences life and death in the one moment.

Hemingway concludes “Indian Camp” by mirroring its beginning and depicting Nick and his father back in the boat; now, however, the father is in the silent and subservient role of rowing.  Here we encounter a new Nick, and by following Biblical precedent, we discover that when Hemingway plays on the word “sun,” Nick becomes a symbolic Christ-child. Dipping his hand into the womb-like warm water of the lake illustrates not only his own re-birth into a state of Blakeian experience, but also a bond with nature which replaces his own absent mother,  a substitution that is reinforced when “A bass jumped making a circle in the water,” reminding the reader of the Indian mother who, as a result of having a caesarean performed on her with “a jack-knife” and then being sewed up “with nine-foot, tapered gut leaders,” was thus reduced to a gutted fish.  Hemingway thus mirrors the jumping bass, known for its big mouth, with the wounded Indian woman.  If the Indian woman is the sacrificed to Nick’s loss of innocence, here she is reborn in the image of a fish, a female risen Christ offering a new type of salvation, her totemic transformation not only undermining Morrison’s “metaphysical condensation,” but also blurring the line between Christianity and Ojibwa mythology.  Nick and the Indian woman are both Christ-figures, depicting two different, yet vital, stages of the Christ story,  birth and resurrection, each signifying a new hope for a wayward people. Hemingway combines the resurrected Christ figure with traditional Ojibwa animism, the belief that after death the spirit returns in the form of an animal spirit-guide, or totem. While Hemingway’s Ojibwa tribe is disjointed and separated, here at the conclusion Nick and his totem form a new clan, merging cultures, the two interconnected within the circle of life. Nick trailing his hand in the lake is therefore the proverbial attempt to wash off the sins of the father and his bid to cleanse himself of his inherited colonial past.

In Our Time follows “Indian Camp” with the story “The Doctor and the Doctor’s Wife,” reversing locations and focusing on Nick Adam’s family home.  Here Hemingway comments on the impoverished and transitory state of the Native American who lives communally in the shanties of sectioned off, government issued land.  In contrast, the Adams’ cottage in “The Doctor and the Doctor’s Wife” is private property, built on enclosed and individually “owned” land. According to Torgovnick a “key element in how the West developed its opposition between the civilized and the primitive…is the idea of property ownership.  Most often ‘ownership’ is applied to tangible goods or to land…In colonial history, primitives never seemed odder to people in the West than in their failure to accept the idea of individual ownership of land” (Gone Primitive 215).  Hemingway exemplifies the notion of private property by continually referencing the cottage gate that needs closing: mine and yours, inside and out, open and closed.

In “The Doctor and the Doctor’s Wife,” conflict and between characters occurs within the boundaries of the enclosed family home. The primary source of tension arises when the Doctor hires Dick Boulton and two young Indians to “cut up logs…[that] had been lost from the big log booms…[and] had drifted up onto the beach” (93).  Here the Ojibwa once again participate in the logging industry, armed as they are with a “long cross-cut saw…two big cant-hooks… [and] three axes”(93).  Hemingway’s use of paratactic syntax demonstrates how the once uncultivated “woods” become the “logs” that are subsequently converted into the “timber” (or property of “White and McNally”) that the Doctor hopes to be made into “cord wood” and “chunks” for his fireplace, and so delineates the sequence of events for both deforestation and private property.  The temporal space in between the lexical jump from “woods” to “timber” is the vast and bloody history of America’s colonization, including the displacement of the Native American population and the practice of genocide.  Here Hemingway’s primitivism is more naturalistic than extreme, depicting the Indians colluding with the white man and in a transitory state of acculturation. Hemingway concludes “The Doctor and the Doctor’s Wife” by juxtaposing the territory of private property, represented again by the Adams’ gate, with the shadowed realm of the “Hemlock woods,” heated conflict versus cool serenity.  Hemingway assigns father and son each to his domain: the Doctor inextricably linked with the cottage and private property, Nick with the woods and primitive landscape.

In “Indian Camp” Hemingway portrays whites and Native Americans interacting in a predominantly Indian setting and in “The Doctor and the Doctor’s Wife” he depicts Indians enclosed within the white man’s private property.  Hemingway’s bifurcated story “Big Two-Hearted River” shows Nick Adams straddling both worlds, an emblematic bridge linking the two cultures.  By splitting the story into two parts, Hemingway creates at a structural level the doubling motif that informs the story. As the sole character in “Big Two-Hearted River” Nick is the primary focus.  Nick’s camp is the story’s environment, and not the troubled domestic domain of his father or the lost territory of the displaced Ojibwa tribe. Here in the third installment of the serial bildungsroman Nick is represented as a young man on the cusp of adulthood, whose journey towards manhood not only coincides with, but is determined by, his developing understanding of the American primitive.

While there are no physical representations of Indians in “Big Two-Hearted River,” Hemingway invokes their presence from the outset in using a transcription of a Native American name as his title while simultaneously initiating the binary subtext.  Hemingway later explained that, “there were many Indians in the story, just as the war was in the story, and none of the Indians nor the war appeared.” Hemingway depicts Nick alone in the woods attempting to commune with nature and, like many Native Americans’ rite of passage initiation, he encumbers him with a series of challenges, both minor and serious, that will determine his transformation into manhood.  When examining Nick’s actions in the context of Transcendentalism, as well as the Ojibwa paradigm of pimadaziwin (the good life) we can frame his attempted communion with both Western and Native American ideologies, a bifocal approach which allows us to better understand Nick’s relationship to the primitive. Observing Nick’s behavior through bicultural paradigms we see that he is imbued with the ideals of each culture, offering a new perspective on attitudes towards the landscape, masculinity and American identity. 

One facet of Hemingway’s code for the American primitive is the connection between a person’s well being and his or her relationship to the land: white and Indian transgressions against the American landscape result in poor health and weak character traits.  In “Big Two-Hearted River,” both the town and immediate landscape are scorched and ravished by fire.  The burned environment acts as a topographical metaphor for the failed relationship between whites, Indians and the American landscape.  The allegorical “thirteen saloons” are representative of the original thirteen states of America, their sheer abundance for a “one street” town is indicative of America’s decadence and materialistic greed.  Its “foundations,” therefore, are “chipped and split,” lacking any substance or stability. If Seney is a symbol of white America, then the “burned-over” country is emblematic of Indian America.  Hemingway’s comment that “Even the surface had been burned off the ground” is at once realistic and surreal, seemingly unbelievable yet true.  His description of the landscape is therefore suggestive of Native Americans’ contradictory position in both the story and America: itself vanished, yet still present.  By using Seney as a synecdoche for colonialist white America, and the “burned-over country” as a representation of Native American experience, Hemingway is denuding America’s foundations, practicing his own brand of “controlled burning”: the Native American practice of burning areas of land in order to “improve pasture, improve visibility,...increase yield of seeds, increase yield of berries, increase other wild vegetable foods, make vegetable food available, remove or thin trees to allow other growth, clear land for planting, stimulate growth of wild tobacco [and] facilitate travel” (Stewart 43). The apocalyptic scene thus has a potential for growth and renewal. Nick, therefore, represents America’s second growth.

Like the Ojibwa, Nick is transitory and displaced. And yet, Nick’s displacement is self-imposed as he embraces an emerging hobo culture that entails freedom, mobility and a rejection of traditional Western ideals.  Throughout the story Nick experiences interspecies guidance: “Nick looked down into the pool from the bridge.  It was a hot day.  A kingfisher flew up the stream”(199).  Invested with a multitude of symbolic meanings, the kingfisher is an important bird in Indian and Western cultures alike.  Celebrated as an expert fisher in both cultures (hence its name), this particular bird is a fitting omen for Nick’s fishing expedition.  The Ojibwa Clan System, or the Odoidaymiwan, includes seven original clans: Crane, Loon, Fish, Bear, Martin, Deer and Bird.  The kingfisher, or ogishkimanissi, is a member of the Benays, or Bird Clan (Benton-Benai 74), the “spiritual leaders of the people.  Its members were noted for their intuition and sense of knowledge of what the future would bring,” as well as distinguished for “pursu[ing] the higher elevations of the mind” (Benton-Benai 76).

The kingfisher represents Nick’s visual and spiritual awakening; as a member of the Benays Clan, the kingfisher bestows spiritual leadership, foresight, and an elevation of the mind, providing Nick with a new “eye” for his developing “soul.”  The intermingling of the kingfisher’s and trout’s shadows signifies a mélange of totemic ideologies.  The Fish, or Gigoon, Clan were “made up of the intellectuals of the people…known for their constant pursuit of meditation and philosophy.  The Fish Clan members would settle disputes between the two Chief Clans” (Benton-Banai 74).  The interaction between the trout’s and kingfisher’s shadows represents a fusion of mind and spirit, a unification of the sacred and the philosophical, Nick’s developing Indian half bringing him closer to understanding the primitive.  If the kingfisher represents the soul, and the fish the mind, then Nick is the body of this tripartite being; he is the land to their air and water, the vehicle for a synthesis of mind, body and spirit, an alternative holy trinity in which Nick assumes the role of Christ-figure and saviour.

If the kingfisher has spiritual significance for Native Americans, its inversion as “Fisher King” suggests its importance in Western mythology.  Jessie Weston contends that most versions of the Grail Legend  “postulate a close connection between the vitality of a certain King, and the prosperity of his kingdom; the forces of the ruler being weakened or destroyed, by wound, sickness, old age, or death, the land becomes Waste, and the task of the hero is that of restoration” Hemingway’s version of the legend concurs with Weston’s interpretation: in the context of a “wounded” American primitive, the “land becomes Waste, and the task of the hero is that of restoration.”  The Fisher King myth is, of course, a prevalent theme in World War I writing, in Eliot’s The Waste Land for instance.  McCormick has pointed out that “Hemingway adapts the Fisher King analogy to his purpose in the character of Jake Barnes” (53).  The myth’s application to “Big Two-Hearted River,” however, remains underexplored, albeit that Nick is the proverbial Grail hero, his “task…that of restoration.” In the Grail Legend the land and the king are interconnected, the two are literally and figuratively interchangeable.  Nick’s “quest,” therefore, is to form a similar bond; his metaphoric grail is his communion with nature, a union that will produce life in a devastated wasteland.

To better understand Nick’s attempted unification with nature, we must consider his intertwining of white and Indian belief systems: a bicultural approach to fulfill a tripartite need.  Transcendentalism and pimadaziwin both involve communion with nature and spiritual growth.  In Transcendentalism, perception is paramount: how to look at and better understand nature.  Pimadaziwin teaches interaction with nature, offering strict hunting guidelines that create bonds and rituals between humans, animals and the surrounding environment.  In short, one methodology teaches you how to look and the other how to behave.  Indeed, George Hochfield points out “how close Transcendentalism [is] to a Native American vision” (46).

As Nick’s development is still nascent, and Transcendentalism privileges the eye of the child, by examining Nick in the light of Emerson’s Nature, “the original -and probably best – systematic expression of the transcendentalist philosophy,” (Bowers 10) we can appreciate his progression towards the primitive.  For Emerson, “The lover of nature is he whose inward and outward senses are still truly adjusted to each other; who has retained the spirit of infancy even into the era of manhood” (38).  For Nick to fully join with nature he must first fuse his “inward and outward senses,” acknowledge both his physical and mental needs to achieve a unity of being.  For Emerson, as for Hemingway, visual acuity is paramount to both sensory and spiritual development.  Despite being depicted as visually aware throughout “Big Two-Hearted River,” (in the first five paragraphs of the story there are twelve variant references to sight alone), Nick’s optical abilities are initially limited and fractured.  A clear example of his early ocular inadequacy is when Nick reaches the end of the white man’s road and, from the top of the hill, notices the river in the distance.  Despite “following it with his eye,”(201) Nick is merely able to catch “glints of the water”(201). His limited horizon is emphasized when we are told that “he could hardly see” (201) this apex of nature, which seems to disappear from sight “if he looked too steadily,” only reappearing if he “half-looked”(201).  But Hemingway imbues Nick with natural intuition, an environmental instinct for topographical guidance.  Soon after Nick attempts to see “the height of land,” Hemingway tells us, “He did not need to get his map out.  He knew where he was from the position of the river,” noting that “Nick kept his direction by the sun” (201-202).  Nick “purges his eyes” by using the natural topography of the river and the sun for guidance, rejecting the manmade map and, consequently, someone else’s directions. As Tony Tanner explains, for the Hemingway hero “…the only meaning to be found lies in the relationship of man to the environment he is immersed in.  And to learn how to live in it, it is essential first of all to learn how to look at it” (240).  Here, just prior to his fishing expedition, the moment of his attempted communion with nature, Nick has learned “how to look.” Notwithstanding his expanding optical abilities, Nick must also learn “how to live in it,” how to apply his sensory skills to his natural surroundings, to adopt a reverential approach to nature in order to revive the lost values of Native Americans.

The Ojibwa paradigm of pimadaziwin, or the good life, is a complex and multifaceted belief system which differs according to individual tribes and geographical regions.  At its core, pimadaziwin (or bimmaadiziwin) reflects the Ojibwa principle of the interconnectedness between humans and their natural surroundings and, therefore, maintaining a balance of power is paramount to this belief system.  Fixico states that:

the Ojibwas regarded animals, plants, and assorted other natural things and phenomena as persons with whom it was possible to enter into a complex social intercourse...Through effective communication, equilibrium is better maintained in the Natural Order of things...Within the circle of life, a continual effort for balance is the purpose for individuals and communities (48).

Hallowell explains that, “The central goal of life for the Ojibwa is expressed by the term pimadaziwin, life in the fullest sense, life in the sense of longevity, health and freedom from misfortune.  This goal cannot be achieved without the effective help and cooperation of both human and other-than-human ‘persons,’ as well as by one’s own personal efforts” (75).  According to Calvin Martin,

Success for the Ojibwa therefore depended upon his paying scrupulous attention to innumerable details of comportment…As we extend these ideas further, we come to realize that the key to understanding the Indian’s role within Nature lies within the notion of mutual obligation: man and Nature both had to adhere to a prescribed behavior toward one another.  If the Indian had any concept of a balance of Nature this was it.  Catastrophe resulted when either one or both parties broke the contract by some extraordinary act which caused injury to the other (73).

In the pimadaziwin paradigm nowhere are the rules clearer than in the moral standards attached to Ojibwa hunting rituals. Paramount to a successful hunt is shared respect, a cooperative bond achieved through moderation, humility and reverence; balance and pimadaziwin is achieved, then, from resisting over-hunting, maintaining a proper veneration for the natural scene and its inhabitants and, finally, from handling the animal carcass appropriately.

Moderation in the hunt is a requirement of pimadaziwin, and showing restraint, even in the presence of excess, demonstrates self-control as well as respect for the prey.  Nick first demonstrates such moderation when Hemingway portrays him gathering grasshoppers as bait for his fishing expedition.  Grasshoppers are poikilothermic and here, “cold and wet with the dew”(211),  they are unable to jump “until the sun warmed them,”(211) making them not only easy prey, but also a simple source of bait for Nick.  In the early morning, Nick demonstrates a keen awareness for his natural surroundings, working in conjunction with nature and using the sedative dew as an easy means of collecting the grasshoppers, knowing that “without the dew, he would have to crush many of them”(212).  In the complex relationship between the Ojibwa practicing pimadaziwin and his prey, Martin explains that the hunter “knew that he must never abuse them by taking more than he needed for the present...nor torture them in any fashion” (74).  Overholt and Callicott support this idea, explaining that, “For their part, when men fulfill their obligations faithfully, the animals will give themselves willingly to the hunters to be killed” (147). While biologically the grasshoppers are cold-blooded and thus unable to move until warmed, the ease in which Nick is able to collect them may be interpreted as the hunted “yielding themselves up to man for his needs” and thus obeying the pimadaziwin compact between hunter and prey.   Despite the opportunity of taking “several hundred hoppers [from] the grasshopper lodging house,” Nick took only “about fifty of the medium browns.”

The description of Nick “threading” the grasshopper with a “slim hook” is less violent than it is meticulous; the delineation of the grasshopper’s anatomy is surgical. Once “threaded,” Nick “spits tobacco juice on it,” replicating Ojibwa hunting superstition. Overholt and Callicott ask, “What is the nature of the requirement on the parties in the human-animal relationship?” answering, “Two things seem to be required of humans.  First of all, they must make appropriate offerings to the animals, who are said to be ‘happy’ with the material goods given them ...like tobacco,” and secondly, they should “have a proper attitude toward the animals they intend to hunt” (146).

In pimadaziwin, more important than how a hunter conducts himself during the hunt is his treatment of the carcass afterward, “For nothing was more offensive to...the shadows of the slain than to have the carcass desecrated” (Martin 79). Nick keeps two of his catches and his treatment of each, before and after he kills the fish, conforms to pimadaziwin.  In his description of the kill, Hemingway emphasises the interconnectedness between Nick and the trout by repeating the word “hold,” stressing its sensory physicality, moving from the moment Nick feels the fish “alive” in his hand to when he takes its life.  After the kill, Hemingway tells us, “Nick cleaned them, slitting them from the vent to the tip of the jaw.  All the insides and the gills and tongue came out in one piece.  They were both males; long grey-white strips of milt, smooth and clean.  All the insides clean and compact coming out all together.  Nick tossed the offal ashore for the minks to find”(221).  According to  pimadaziwin, “the hunter must always be careful to treat the animals he kills for food...in the proper manner,” and that “One of the prime values of Ojibwa culture is exemplified by the great stress laid upon sharing what one has with others” (Hallowell 77).   By cleaning the fish with such precision Nick exhibits sensitivity for the carcass.  The fact that he “tossed the offal ashore for the minks,” not only shows evidence of “sharing what one has with others,” but is also symbolic of a ceremonial offering. According to Native American mythology, “If you see a mink nearby...it is a sign that you will have good luck when fishing” (Lake-Thom 89).  Nick must now take what he has learned from his communion with nature and apply it to the world outside the isolated forest, to be like Boone and “be himself in a new world Indianlike” (Williams137).  For Nick’s regenerative task to be accomplished he must use his transcendental eye to see the world afresh and with unsullied vision, he must implement the lessons of pimadaziwin in his daily actions. 

Hemingway’s representation of Native Americans in “Ten Indians” is a stark and accurate reminder of their colonized history.  By setting the story on the Fourth of July, Hemingway frames “Ten Indians” in the patriotic celebration of America’s independence.   In doing so, Hemingway stresses that a precondition of white America’s independence was an indigenous people’s genocide.  Hemingway’s drunken Indians are not celebrating but mourning their subjugated land, decimated culture and forgotten values, their drinking a self-anesthetization against their present situation.  Despite Togovnick believing that “once whites occupy the space close to nature that has been coded as ‘Indian’ actual Indians have nowhere to go but off into the proverbial sunset,” (Primitive Passions 140), Hemingway’s Indians are still a physical presence.

As in Hemingway’s other Indian clusters, Nick Adams’ development is paralleled with the Native Americans’ demise.  Here, in the fourth installment of his serial bildungsroman, Hemingway again represents Nick as a cultural crossbreed, a hybrid who is linked to both white and Indian communities, a metaphorical amalgamation of civilization and the primitive. Like the Native Americans in the story, Nick is portrayed as dislocated, fluctuating between a surrogate family and a motherless home, existing somewhere in between lost and settled.   Hemingway demonstrates, however, that the more “lost” Nick becomes by distancing himself from his white heritage, the stronger his ties are to the primitive. Likewise, the more “Indian-like” Nick becomes, the more he is met with opposition from the white community as a counterforce to the primitive pull.

Hemingway’s title “Ten Indians” is taken from “10 Little Injuns,” a song written for an 1860s minstrel show.  The original song delineates ten Indians’ demise, each meeting his fate by a different means; the lyrics count backwards until “there were none,” and so the song contributes to the “vanishing Indian” mythology. Walter Benn Michaels points out that:

if the Indians had not been perceived as vanishing, they could not have become the exemplary instance of what it meant to have a culture...It is because the Indian’s sun was perceived as setting that he could become...a kind of paradigm for increasingly powerful American notions of ethnic identity and eventually for the idea of an ethnicity that could be threatened or defended, repudiated or reclaimed (38).

Hemingway’s story challenges any nostalgic notion of the supposed disappearance of the Indian, highlighting instead their troubled existence in a post-colonial environment. Hemingway personalizes his Indians by giving them names and describing their individual experiences and thus problematizes Michaels’ theory with its naturalistic representation of Native Americans; theirs is not “an ethnicity that could be threatened or defended, repudiated or reclaimed” because they are still present. By locating his Indians in the present, and exposing the effects of white history on their culture, Hemingway’s story deconstructs the “vanishing Indian” trope.  Hemingway tells us that Nick “remembered there were nine because Joe Garner…pulled up the horses, jumped down into the road and dragged an Indian out of the wheel rut” (316).  The physicality of the Indian in “the wheel rut” acts as a literal and figurative cause for pause, forcing both the reader and the family to stop; the Indian in the road is thus a proverbial speed-bump on the white man’s road of progress.  

The encounter between the Garner family and the Indian becomes a micro-version of the history between whites and Native Americans: “Joe dragged [the Indian] into the bushes” remarking “That makes nine of them, just between here and town” (316).  “Dragging” the Indian off the road is emblematic of white colonialism/exceptionalism as well as Native American displacement, and thus exemplifies the Indians’ sentencing to a shadowy existence somewhere “between here and the edge of town.”

Since Hemingway’s title is “Ten Indians,” and Joe Garner only counts nine, speculation about the tenth Indian is prompted.   In the story, Nick Adams is once again depicted as possessing Native American sensibility.  Nick’s wagon ride home becomes a metaphorical journey towards the primitive, with Nick literally and figuratively “passing” Native Americans en route.  In “Big Two-Hearted River” Nick learns from the high ideals of both white and Native American cultures, while here the reverse is the case: the Garner family embodies a colonialist mindset and the Indians are drunk and lifeless, one group vocal and dehumanizing, the other silent and marginalized. 

Hemingway continues to suggest Nick’s bicultural identity, depicting him as both Indian and white, primitive and civilized.  After leaving the Garner family, Hemingway tells us that “Nick walked barefoot along the path through the meadow below the barn.  The path was smooth and the dew was cool on his bare feet” (319).  If Nick’s bare feet demonstrate his connection to nature, then his meal at home symbolizes civility, Hemingway tells us that Nick’s “Father sat watching him eat and filled his glass from the milk-pitcher.  Nick drank and wiped his mouth on his napkin” (319). Indian sensibility thus becomes intertwined with white civility.

Nick’s biculturalism is both enhanced and challenged by his relationship with Prudence Mitchell.  His association with Prudie, an “Indian squaw,” represents the merger of cultures, the fusion of white and Indian. Nick therefore becomes more “Indian-like” by being with her.  As Michaels points out, “sleeping with Indians is imagined as a way of being an Indian” (49).  In the context of colonialism, the intermingling of races traditionally signifies a healing of rifts, a reconciliation and resolution of differences, as in the Pocahontas legend.  As Fiedler explains, however, “Historically there is little to sustain the Pocahontas legend, since the typical relationship of White settlers to the Indian woman they encountered was casual intercourse or long-term cohabitation without benefit of conversation or marriage” (RVA 71).  But Nick’s feelings for Prudie transcend “the typical relationship between White settlers and Indian women.”  Nick “goes to see her every day,” (317) and feels “his heart is broken” when he is told of her infidelity; this suggests a deeper love than mere “casual intercourse,” his link to her thus enhances his “Indianness.”

Another dilemma for Nick is that, unlike Pocahontas, Prudence Mitchell is the product of the colonial condition, not its redeemer.  Given that her Western name connotes good sense and sexual temperance, Prudence’s supposed infidelity is either ironic or erroneous. Nonetheless, she is a colonial subject, constituted by the white man’s attitudes.  Gayatri  Spivak notes that “Between patriarchy and imperialism, subject-constitution and object-formation, the figure of the woman disappears, not into a pristine nothingness, but into a violent shuttling which is the displaced figuration of the ‘third-world’ woman caught between tradition and modernization” (306).  Prudence exists only as a constituted subject/object, “disappearing” as an Indian subject when the father removes her from the parameters of the camp and places her in the woods.  Prudence Mitchell is therefore representative of Hemingway’s Indians: displaced and used, neither wholly acculturated nor wholly Indian.

As in the stories “Indian Camp” and “The Doctor and the Doctor’s Wife,” Nick’s relationship with his father in “Ten Indians” is explored in the context of a peripheral Native American presence.  The father and the Indians represent bipolar forces in Nick’s relationship to the primitive. The tenderness Nick requires from an absent mother is replaced by a stoic and unfeeling man: warm nurturing breast-milk is substituted by “cold milk from a pitcher.”  By dating an Indian girl, Nick theoretically becomes affianced to the primitive, a bond his father tries to sever with his accusations of infidelity.  Nick’s communion with Nature provides him with the means to heal his “broken heart,” by harnessing his Manitou and thus becoming the tenth Indian.  In “Fathers and Sons,” the father and the Indians exist only in Nick’s memory; the severed bond between Nick and his father mirrors the broken ties between Native Americans and the primitive. With the father and the Indians gone, Nick is now wholly independent, an autonomous being accountable for his own actions.  Peter Messent points out, however, that “Nick’s replaying of the past, of losing himself in it, is a sign of his failure to transcend it” (32).  Whether Nick will become the new representative of an American primitive will depend on which is stronger, the memories of his past or his relationship with his son, the representation of the future.

“Fathers and Sons” opens with Nick Adams returning to his hometown, visiting America after moving to France and reflecting as he drives through the town: “It was not his country but...all of this country was good to drive through and see” (462).  Nick now views America as an outsider, combining observation with memory. The dirt roads of Nick’s youth are transformed into “brick-paved streets” and the horse-drawn wagons are replaced by cars that are “stopped by traffic lights”; America’s virgin forests no longer exist, instead there is a “second growth timber”.
 
Hemingway delves deeper into this allegorical landscape when he comments on the detrimental effects non-indigenous people have had on the American terrain: “in the clearings there were patches of corn, some cut with streaks of red sorghum...Nick noticed which corn fields had soy beans or peas in them” (462).  Here the pastures of plants become metaphors for foreign ingression, the corn, an autochthonic Indian crop, is “cut with streaks of red sorghum,” an African plant; the indigenous Chinese soybean and European pea also take over whole corn fields.  Hemingway is commenting here on the devastating effects of European farming practices, an impact that Charles Mann says “inadvertently helped unleash a convulsive and permanent change in the American landscape” (34). Initially, Nick’s topographical observations seem positive, even pastoral, but on closer inspection we find that he collapses this scenery with “how the thickets and the cut-over lay, where the cabins and houses were in relation to the fields and the thickets” (462); Hemingway is alluding to the anthropogenic decimation caused by American husbandry, thoughts that spark for Nick more conflicted memories of the Ojibwa.

Nick’s memories of the Ojibwa Indians, like those of his father, are contradictory; at times, nostalgic and affectionate, but also judgmental.   Although Nick’s dominant memory is of losing his virginity to a young Indian girl, Trudy Gilby, he also remembers the Ojibwa’s participation in the logging industry.  Nick recalls that:

The hemlock bark was piled in long rows of stacks, roofed over with more bark, like houses, and the peeled logs lay huge and yellow where the trees had been felled.  They left the logs in the woods to rot, they did not even clear away or burn the tops.  It was only the bark they wanted for the tannery at Boyne City; hauling it across the lake on the ice in winter, and each year there was less forest and ore open, hot, shadeless, weed-grown slashing (466).

Here Nick’s memories treat Indians’ collusion with the logging industry as gluttonous and wasteful; deeming their foresting methods ecologically unsound, Nick notes that, “they did not even clear away or burn the tops.”  Nick, however, parallels this memory with an even earlier recollection: “But there was still much forest then, virgin forest where the trees grew high” (466).  Hemingway links Nick with the American forest: both are virginal and each lose their innocence by way of the Indians.  Like the forest, when Nick loses his virginity, “something inside him had gone a long way away”(468).

As the final installment in Hemingway’s Indian clusters, “Fathers and Sons” represents the closing of the circle, as Nick’s relationship with his son is mirrored by the memories of his own father, and the questions his son asks him reflect those that he posed to his father on the lake in “Indian Camp.”  Messent contends that:

Nick Adams fails to progress as a subject...In “Fathers and Sons” he reproduces the patterns of his father’s life.  The fact too that the story concludes with a reference first to where Nick will be buried and then to a proposed visit to his own father’s tomb, only confirms a sense of (deathly) repetition without change. Nick’s failure to construct any sense of full and positive selfhood reveals the insecure grounds of his subjectivity.  His status is that of one who is faced with events that cannot be controlled and whose response is in terms of passive reaction rather than any kind of positive and forward looking action.  Nick’s sense of his own identity is very shaky indeed
(52).

When we examine Nick’s behavior throughout Hemingway’s Indian clusters, however, we find a progressive subject in the process of becoming, exemplified in his first and last words.  In “Indian Camp” Nick asks his father, “Where are we going, Dad?” suggesting a desire for guidance and direction.  In “Fathers and Sons,” however, Nick answers his son’s question with, “We’ll have to go, I can see we’ll have to go.”  Nick’s response, therefore, is not a “passive reaction,” but instead a “positive and forward looking action.” While Nick may not have been able to “get rid of it through writing,” he does, however, achieve enlightenment through his son, for it is the relationship with his son that teaches him to see.

“Fathers and Sons” is the last of Hemingway’s Indian stories.  Nick has left America and moved to France and so has abandoned his bid to be the new representative of an American primitive.  Hemingway’s story, however, is about lineage, the information that is passed down from father to son, environment to observer. Hemingway’s Indian cluster stories are metonymic meditations, commenting on family, America’s colonialist history and environmental fragility. 

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