From a fishing trip the local doctor is summoned to an Indian village to assist a woman in labor. With him are his young son and an older male relative. The physician assesses the situation in the closed, pungent hut and determines that his only option is section--with a pen knife and fishing leader as his instruments, and no anesthesia for the Indian woman. The doctor arrogantly, but only briefly, celebrates his success as a surgeon only to discover that the woman's husband, apparently unable to tolerate his wife's pain and the racism of the white visitors, has silently slit his own throat. The child, who has observed the entire proceedings asks, "Is dying hard, Daddy?"


This very short, terse piece from Hemingway's Nick Adams stories is laden with ethical problems. What justification is there for forcing a child to become part of a brutal sequence of medical events? When, if ever, is it morally acceptable to treat patients as though they were animals? The medical treatment of the laboring woman is unquestionably life-saving, but the cruel insensitivity of the two white men contributes to the unnecessary death of the infant's father. Duties to children and to patients, as well as simple inhumanity, racism, and sexism in the professional relationship are all aired in these five pages.


First published: 1925

Primary Source

The Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway


Charles Scribner's Sons

Place Published

New York



Page Count