Chapter 1, page 13
The narrator, a kitchen corporal, says that everyone in his whole battery was drunk as they headed to Champagne in the dark. The lieutenant rides in the fields proclaiming in a mixture of English and French that he is drunk. The adjutant rides beside the corporal’s kitchen and warns him to keep the fire out, or they will be seen. The narrator observes, with irony, “We were fifty kilometers from the front but the adjutant worried about the fire in my kitchen.”
Each chapter in In Our Time is prefaced with a vignette set in italics, which suggests that the vignette is a memory spoken by a narrator. In this vignette, the narrator recounts a small moment during the World War I, when his battery was moving on a road in France. The drunkenness of the soldiers juxtaposes with the nervousness of the adjutant to create a sense of the absurd.
“Indian Camp,” pages 15-19
Young Nick Adams and his father, a doctor, and his uncle George get into rowboats and are rowed by Indians across the bay to the Indian Camp at night. Mr. Adams is going to see a woman in labor. Once ashore, they walk across a meadow and down a logging road, where the trees have been cut away. They come to the village of shanties, and inside one they find the woman, who has been in labor for two days. She lies beneath a quilt in a lower bunk, while her husband, who has a cut foot, lies in the bunk above her.
Nick’s father explains the labor process to Nick, and Nick asks why he does not give her something to stop her screams. Nick’s father replies that he has nothing to give her, and besides, her screams are “not important.” Nick’s father boils his instruments and washes up with soap he has brought along. As he washes, he explains how breach births—feet first—are a problem. Uncle George and several Indian men hold the woman down while Nick’s father performs a cesarean operation and produces a baby boy from the woman’s womb. Nick is a bit sickened by the whole thing. He does not watch as his father stitches up the woman, for “his curiosity has been gone for a long time.”
Nick’s father says a nurse will come tend the woman and the baby in the morning. He seems exhilarated after having performed a surgery “with a jack-knife and sewing it up with the nine-foot, tapered gut leaders.” Uncle George shows his arm, which the woman bit, to Nick’s father, who says he will put peroxide on it. He then peels back the blanket on the Indian man, who has been very quiet throughout the surgery, and he discovers that the man had slit his throat. Before Nick can be whisked away, he sees the slit neck and the blood. Suddenly, Nick’s father is not so exhilarated. As they walk back along the logging road, he apologizes for bringing Nick along. Nicks asks about suicide, then he asks “‘Is dying hard, Daddy?’” His father answers that he thinks it’s pretty easy. Back in the boat, Nick trails his hands in the chilly water and feels “quite sure that he would never die.”
Nick Adams is a character that reappears in Hemingway’s works. Here he is a child confronted with several truths about the world. He observes the unspoken class system that separates himself and his father from the poor Indians, the “barkpeelers.” His father’s attitude toward the Indian woman and her pain suggest a devotion to his work that doesn’t reach into compassion for his patients, or at least not for an Indian woman. What he boasts about is performing a surgery with rudimentary tools, rather than marveling over the life he has brought into the world. At the same time, he does not seem terribly upset that the Indian man is dead. Uncle George, who has disappeared, appears to be more upset than he. For perhaps the first time, Nick thinks about his own mortality. His father’s calm, in-control attitude, combined with the morning sunlight hitting the beautiful lake lull Nick into a false sense of security; in such a setting, death cannot touch him. Bad things will not come to him. At least, it seems that way to a child.
Chapter II, page 20
In this vignette, the narrator is observing the evacuation of Greek citizens from Turkey. He says that “minarets stuck up in the rain out of Adrianople,” and that the muddy road is jammed with evacuees for thirty miles. The cattle and water buffalo drawing their carts, which are laden with all their possessions, struggle in the mud. People young and old walk alongside; women and young children perch in the carts. The nearby river is bank full and yellow. He remembers seeing a woman having a baby, with a young girl “holding a blanket over her and crying.” He also adds, “Scared sick looking at it,” but it’s unclear whether he means that he—or the girl—is scared sick. He comments that the rain did not let up during the whole evacuation.
The vignettes in the book are all written in italics, suggesting that they are snatches of memory. In this vignette, readers get another look at childbirth, only this time it is taking place during war. The narrator, assuming he is the one who is “scared sick” is bewildered by so much human misery. If the narrator is a grown up Nick Adams, then readers can compare his experience here—where even nature seems evil in its mud, swollen rivers, and incessant rain—with the Indian Camp experience. His tone is dispassionate and matter-of-fact, like that of one numbed and holding on, compared to that of a boy so sure he will never die because the world around him is secure.
“The Doctor and the Doctor’s Wife,” pages 23-27
Several huge logs that have been lost from the steamer Magic, which was towing the logs to the mill down the lake, have appeared on the beach belonging to Dr. Adams. The lumber company might come claim the lost logs, but if they do not, they will rot on the beach. Dr. Adams, believing that the logs will stay there to rot, has hired a half-breed Indian, Dick Boulton, and Boulton’s son, Eddy, as well as a third Indian, Billy Tabeshaw, to cut up the logs, which can be used as firewood.
The three men arrive with a cross-cut saw, three axes, and cant-hooks to do the job. Boulton comments to the doctor that he has got himself a nice bit of “lumber.” Dr. Adams replies, rather touchily, that it is not “lumber,” but “driftwood.” Boulton and his helpers drag a log into the water to wash off the sand so that Boulton, as if to prove his point, can read the ownership mark hammered into the log. According to the mark, the lumber belongs to White and McNally, Boulton pronounces.
Dr. Adams looks uncomfortable and grudgingly tells Boultonto cease work and go back to the Indian camp. If he believes the logs are stolen, he should not cut them up. “‘Don’t get huffy, Doc,’ said Dick. ‘Don’t get huffy. I don’t care who you steal them from. It’s none of my business.’” But Dr. Adams’s face turns red, and he insists that Boulton and his crew clear out. He tells Boulton not to call him “Doc” again, or he will hit him. Dick Boulton simply looks at the doctor. Boulton is a big man. Dr. Adams finally turns his back on Boulton and walks back to his house. Boulton says something funny in Ojibway [sic] to Eddy, who laughs, and the three men leave.
In the house, the doctor goes to his room. His wife, lying in a darkened room nearby, asks what is the matter. Dr. Adams tells her he had a “row” with Boulton, and she says she hopes he did not lose his temper with Boulton, since that would not be the Christian thing to do. Dr. Adams begins to clean his shotgun, and his wife continues to pry about the argument. He tells her that Boulton owed him money for doctoring his wife’s pneumonia, but Boulton has manufactured an argument to get out of having to work to pay off the debt. Mrs. Adams says she does not believe someone would do such a thing.
Dr. Adams tells his wife he is going out for a walk. She asks that he send Nick to her, if he comes across the boy. When Dr. Adams finds his son, he tells him that his mother wishes to see him. However, when Nick says he does not want to go to her—he would rather go with his father—Dr. Adams agrees that the boy can come with him.
In this second glimpse of Nick Adam’s father, readers do not see a man in control of a situation, as he was when he delivered the Indian baby, but instead a man who is chafing at his lack of control. Dick Boulton’s implied accusation that the doctor is stealing logs puts the high and mighty, educated doctor on a level with Boulton himself, a man known for his laziness and lack of work ethic. In his house, the doctor struggles with his anger at having the uncivilized part of himself exposed by Boulton. He gravitates towards a shotgun; simply holding it makes him feel powerful and in control again. Until his wife, with her Christian sayings, assaults his sense of control. Her ultra-civilized reaction to his argument with Boulton scrapes against his desire to get revenge on Boulton. Her words remind him of how he should behave. The doctor essentially turns his back on her, just as he did on Boulton, to escape into the woods.
He does take satisfaction in a small revenge against his wife and the civilized world she represents. He lets Nick come along with him, instead of going to his wife as she requested. He is in essence claiming Nick, taking him away from civilization and its constraints. The message Nick receives from his father’s act is that women and civilization have no power over men.