Themes And Topics In Ernest Hemingway’s Indian Camp And Graham Greene’s The Innocent
In literature, some themes may be treated differently by different authors. It does not matter if the authors are contemporary and compatriot or not, their styles, techniques and ways of approaching to a theme differ in accordance with that writer’s personal choice and experience. The different or similar functionalities of the same themes in Ernest Hemingway’s “Indian Camp” and Graham Greene’s “The Innocent” can be comparable examples so as to underscore the variation between different authors who lived in the same century.
In Ernest Hemingway’s “Indian Camp”, three men—Nick Adams, his father Dr. Adams, and his uncle George— set off to the American Indian camp in order to help a sick native woman. Unexpectedly, Dr. Adams has to improvise cesarean on the woman because the baby’s position is not as it is supposed to be. Nick Adams spectates the whole process. During the process, the woman’s husband kills himself by cutting his throat. Later on, they return to their home. In Graham Greene’s “The Innocent”, the narrator takes his flirt to the place where he spent his childhood, thinking that it would be an interesting experience. However, he regrets his decision and wishes to be alone because he gets nostalgic when he remembers his childhood. Then, they visit a place in which the narrator finds a paper he and his childhood love put there once. The picture on the paper seems obscure to him at first glance. Later, he realises at the end of the story that what made the picture look something sexual is nothing but his corrupt mind.
In order to begin with the similarities between the two stories, the most crucial point to look at is the fact that they are both initiation stories, whose overall plot is concerned with putting the protagonist through a particular sort of experience, initiation into something for which his previous experience had not prepared him. In Hemingway’s story, the young protagonist is exposed to a bloody childbirth and, unintentionally, to a violent death. He was not expecting to experience such a horrible incident. His experience is certainly traumatic for him because he will never forget the misconceived connection he made between life and death. Meanwhile, in Greene’s story, the adult protagonist realises something that he has been failing to notice for a long time when he sees the drawing.
Both stories start with a journey; thus, it can be said that the both protagonists’ epiphanies are triggered by their journey to somewhere else. The stories are narrated in the past tense. In “Indian Camp”, the protagonist Nick Adams, his father and Uncle George arrive at the American Indian camp on the other side of a northern Michigan lake. In “The Innocent”, the unnamed narrator takes his flirt, Lola, to the place he was born and spent his childhood. Thus, their destinations are somewhere they do not currently live in. Both protagonists know that they may encounter with unusual situations. However, Nick Adams is more aware of it since his father was taking him there with the purpose of teaching him several life lessons even though things do not go as he planned. Moreover, young Nick Adams is taken there by his father whereas Greene’s protagonist goes there by his own decision. In “Indian Camp”, Nick’s father tries to explain the situation to him during the birth of the child.: “‘See, it’s a boy, Nick, he said. ‘How do you like being an interne?’ Nick said, ‘All right.’ He was looking away so as not to see what his father was doing” (Hemingway 68). Here, it would be useful to give the definition of interne: it is someone who works, usually without a pay, at a trade or occupation in order to gain work experience. Nick witnesses a medical operation which affects him so deeply that he comes to a conclusion about life and death although he is just a child. The same situation of inexperience is seen at the beginning of the other story: “It was a mistake to take Lola there, I knew it the moment we alighted from the train at the small country station” (Greene 1) . The fact that he looks back and considers it to be a mistake indicates his lack of experience and his initial carelessness about the consequences of taking his mistress to the place that would turn out to be dear to him because of his childhood memories.
In both stories, there is the sense of innocence and naiveté. It is the most noteworthy matter that makes these stories analogous. The stories demonstrate the possibility of different attitudes towards a similar theme. Nick Adams, as a young person, awakens to the fact about the close relationship between life and death. Greene’s protagonist learns that the cause of his seeing the picture as obscene is his depravement. At the end of the stories, the protagonists learn something about life and about themselves. However, their process of getting their differs. In other words, for instance, the stories’ viewpoints are different. Hemingway’s story is narrated by a third person point of view whilst that of Greene is narrated by the protagonist himself. Even though it does not make a big difference, the degree of reliability and sincerity changes. The unnamed narrator’s story seems more intimate as he himself concludes the story by extrapolating upon his mindset, he says: “I began to realise the deep innocence of that drawing. I had believed I was drawing something with a meaning unique and beautiful; it was only now after thirty years of life that the picture seemed obscene” (Greene 3).
Another difference between the stories is the different processes the protagonists undergo. In other words, Nick Adams’ perspective changes due to what he witnessed, yet the unnamed narrator comes to a realisation after interpreting his own thoughts. So, changing and realising are the two main actions. In “Indian Camp”, the change happens after Nick Adams’ association of birth and death. In the story the situation is narrated as: “In the early morning on the lake sitting in the stern of the boat with his father rowing, he felt quite sure that he would never die” (Hemingway 70). Moreover, this shows that the means of reaching to these intellectual phases are products of natural human experience. Both death and sexuality are the concepts that any human being goes through for sure. They are the undetachable parts of the human nature and they are even interrelated in that sexual intercourse begins the cycle and death ends it.
The phenomenon of suicide is mentioned in both stories. In Greene’s story, it is given as a past event the narrator experienced when he was only 5: “We came up over the little humpbacked bridge and passed the almshouses. When I was five I saw a middle-aged man run into one to commit suicide; he carried a knife, and all the neighbours pursued him up the stairs” (Greene 1). The fact that he was not unable to comprehend the concept of one’s killing oneself was because of his innocent mind. He understands what the man did only now. Similarly, in Hemingway’s story, as a child, Nick Adams cannot understand the reason why the woman’s husband killed himself. Furthermore, this incident arouses his curiosity. He asks to his father: “Why did he kill himself, Daddy?’ I don’t know, Nick. He couldn’t stand things, I guess.’ […] ‘Is dying hard, Daddy?’ ‘No, I think it’s pretty easy, Nick. It all depends’” (Hemingway 69). The change in Nick Adams is observed in his behaviour. For instance, when they were going to the camp, Nick was sitting next to his father; on their way back, Nick changes his seat. This incident may be given as an evident showing his growing up.
In conclusion, Hemingway shows the effect of birth and death on young Nick Adams. On the other hand, Greene shows the effect of realising the loss of innocence on the unnamed narrator. The stories share something common in their essence, only their ways of conveying it differ. Both approach to the same topic from different points of view. The reason why they use different techniques may be because they lived at different places and times, or their personal experiences or even all of them.
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