Table of Contents
2. What is a Story of Initiation ?
2.1 Origins of the Term
2.2 Aspects of Initiation
3. Analysis of “Indian Camp”
3.1 The Existence of Evil
3.2 The Loss of Innocence
3.4 Self-Discovery and Self-Realization
Many critics regard Ernest Hemingway’s short fiction as typical stories of initiation. However, by taking a closer look at his short story “Indian Camp”, this paper will not only reveal the complexity and controversy of this term, but also answer the question whether one might classify this short story as a genuine story of initiation or not.
2. What is a Story of Initiation?
An universally suitable and working definition of the “story of initiation” does not yet exist as this term embraces an extreme complexity and puzzling variety of meanings (Freese, “The American Short Story” 34). Hence, a definition would either be “so generalized as to have hardly any heuristic value” (46), or its concentration on one particular meaning of initiation provides the desired precision, but would therefore be “so limited to be hardly useful as an extensive generic category” (46). However, one might say that
[a]n initiation story may be said to show its young protagonist experiencing a significant change of knowledge about the world or himself, or a change of character, or of both, and this change must point or lead him towards an adult world. It may or may not contain some form of ritual, but it should give some evidence that the change is at least likely to have permanent effects (Marcus 192).
Consequently, the term initiation designates the transition from infantile ignorance, naivety and innocence to maturity, adult knowledge and guilt. In any case, “one may demand evidence of permanent effect on the protagonist before ascribing initiation to a story” (192). As later seen by the example of Nick Adams, it may prove difficult to provide evidence of this permanency. Furthermore, Marcus distinguishes three different types of initiation: the tentative initiation, the uncompleted initiation and decisive initiation (192), classifying them according to “their power and effect” (192), thus covering a wide range of what is called “story of initiation” and facilitating its analysis:
First, some initiations lead only to the threshold of maturity and understanding but do not definitely cross it. Such stories emphasize the shocking effect of experience, and their protagonists tend to be distinctly young. Second, some initiations take their protagonists across the threshold of maturity and understanding but leave them enmeshed in a struggle for certainty. These initiations sometimes involve self-discovery. Third, the most decisive initiations carry their protagonists firmly into maturity and understanding, or at least show them decisively embarked toward maturity. These imitations usually center on self-discovery. For convenience, I will call these types tentative, uncompleted, and decisive initiation (192).
However, a closer look at our story “Indian Camp” by Hemingway will reveal its tentative initiation character.
2.1 Origins of the Term
The concept of initiation derives from the anthropologist studies, which understand initiation as “the passage from childhood or adolescence to maturity and full membership in adult society” (Marcus 189), usually involving a specific symbolic rite. Cleanth Brooks and Robert Penn Warrens were the first one to use this term with a literary connotation after World War II (Freese, “Die Initiationsreise” 94). Nevertheless, as the term initiation is “borrowed” from the anthropology, many of the definitions of the literary equivalent are highly orientated to its original concept (Palme 4). Another aspect is the fact that initiation rites are meanwhile seldom found in our modern Western society (Freese, “Die Initiationsreise” 128). On that account, the term itself with its ritual aspects had to be replaced by other characteristics in order to define the story of initiation (Palme 4). According to the anthropologists, the initiation story “shows adult society deliberately testing and indoctrinating the young” (Marcus 190), whereby in literary means the initiation story has often “only a tangential relationship to the anthropologist’s idea of initiation” (191).