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The Presence Of Racism In Hemi Essay, Research Paper

There are many questions that Hemingway’s novel raises in the reader, but I’m only going to talk about the presence of racism in it. At first reading one might not notice the signs of racism, and might not understand why the young Indian man killed himself while his wife was giving birth to their baby. These questions cannot be fully answered of course, because we do not know the writer’s intentions. Every statement I’m going to make is based on my own opinion, other people might have different interpretations of this novel.

I think Nick’s father and Uncle George were aware of their racist attitude, but they tried to hide it even from themselves. They tried to act as if they looked at the Indians as equal, for example when Uncle George gave both Indians (who were rowing the boats) cigars. This gesture is particularly important, because of the special meaning of “smoking” in the Native American culture. I also think that the lack of Nick’s father’s self esteem can partly be caused by his bad conscience. This is why he needs Uncle George to reassure him: “Oh, you’re a great man, all right.”

On the contrary to the above, they sometimes fall out of this “role”. For example when Nick asks his father to give anaesthetic to the Indian lady who is in labour, the father answers the following? “…her screams are not important. I don’t hear them, because they are not important.” This statement clearly shows that Nick’s father does not pay attention to the suffering of an Indian woman, because she is simply “not important”. I believe that this is not the right attitude for a doctor, who is supposed to help anyone without considering the person’s skin colour. And couldn’t the sentence : “I don’t hear them, because they are not important.” refer to all Indians?

Uncle George also shows absolute lack of sympathy when the woman- who is in great pain- bites his arm. He says the following: “Damn squaw bitch!”- which indicates the he does not really consider the fact that the woman probably has great pain.

But the most central question of this novel is: why does the Native American man kill himself? I think he cannot bear that the Indian nation depends on the whites, and that he has to tolerate the racism of the white people, because he does not have another choice. We know from the novel that the members of this Indian community are bark-peelers. It must be hard for an Indian, whose country was “stolen” by the white people to acquiesce in depending on the whites financially. The lives of these Indians depended on the white people, who bought the wood from them. They couldn’t have earned their living anyway else. The young Indian man had to face the fact that his nation had to give up its dignity in order to survive. And now, above all of this, he had to call a white man to help his wife in giving birth to their child. He had to let these men into his shantie, and hear all those remarks that these white men made about his people. He could not defend his wife against the insults of the whites. After Nick’s father says that his wife’s screams are not important, he “…rolled over against the wall” without saying a word. And this man also had to face the fact that the members of the Indian nation – which was such a proud nation once- have lost their dignity, because they did not care about the remarks of the whites at all. “Uncle George said, ‘Damn squaw bitch!’ and the young Indian who had rowed Uncle George over laughed at him… Uncle George looked at his arm. The young Indian smiled reminiscently.” These Indian men were not offended by the remarks of Uncle George, they did not defend the Indian woman. They just did not care about it at all. Maybe because the would “take” anything for a cigar? Is their pride, dignity this cheap?

In my opinion Nick’s father was aware that the young Indian man killed himself because of these reasons. When Nick asks him why the Indian man committed suicide, he answers the following:

“Why did he kill himself, Daddy?”

“I don’t know, Nick. He couldn’t stand things, I guess.”

I think that with this second sentence the father might have meant that the Indian man could not stand this “world order”, the situation of the Native American people, and this was the reason of his act.

In my opinion with this novel Hemingway wanted to raise the attention of the American people to the sad situation of the Indians, and make them realize that racism is still a central issue in connection with this nation. If we take a brief look at the American literature and the role of Indians in it, we will see that racism was always present in them. For example in the classic, western Indian stories like Cooper’s ‘Last of the Mohicans’, and in many others, the Indians are divided into two groups: the good Indians,who help the whites and the bad Indians, who hate the whites and want to kill them. In these stories every Indian- even the good ones- are subordinated to the whites, and the good Indians are ‘good’ only because they want to help the whites. This problem is still present in the American literature of the 60s, for example in Ken Kesey’s first book, ‘One flew over the cuckoo’s nest’. Ken Kesey was half-Indian, therefore he had personal experiences of the situation of the Indians in the United States. In this book the reader can strongly feel the prjudice of other people towards the Indian man, who is the main character of the story, who is the narrator.

The situation of Indians is still a central issue in the United States, (just like racism), although the leaders of the country are trying to improve the conditions. But this question will be represented in America’s literature until it will be completely solved.


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