Hemingway's Short Stories By Ernest Hemingway Summary and Analysis The Doctor and the Doctor's Wife

Summary

Dr. Adams hires two American Indians to cut some logs that broke free from a shipment bobbing downstream toward a large sawmill company. They are glad to make some extra money and are in a good mood, good-naturedly teasing the doctor about stealing the logs. The doctor becomes furious and fires the men, then goes upstairs, where his wife lectures him with platitudes. Disgusted with his wife and himself, the doctor goes outside and accepts his young son's invitation to go where they can see some black squirrels.

Analysis

The doctor in the story's title refers to Dr. Adams, a central character in "Indian Camp." In that story, the doctor's son, Nick, was a boy, and after his father successfully delivered a baby with makeshift surgical implements. In this story, Nick is still a young boy and still idolizes his father. However, we see a far different Dr. Adams than Nick does. To Nick, his father can do no wrong; readers observe Dr. Adams being a hypocritical coward. Dr. Adams may have performed heroically at the American Indian camp, but not here. Here, he's clearly a man who "can't stand it" when he's confronted with the truth about his unethical behavior.

Three Ojibway Indians have come to cut several beached logs that broke loose from the White and McNally log shipments that were being towed to the mill located down the lake from the Adams property. Doctor Adams plans to use the logs for wood for his fireplace. However, when Dick Boulton, one of the Ojibway Indians, jokes about the logs being stolen, Adams is angrily embarrassed and shamed by Boulton's knowing that Adams is fully aware that the logs rightly belong to White and McNally; he orders them off his property.

Dick has bested the doctor. He's proud that although he's ready to cut up the logs willingly for the doctor, he's not hypocritical enough — as the doctor is — to pretend that the logs don't belong to White and McNally. As a measure of his contempt for the doctor's hypocrisy, he exits by the back gate and leaves it open.

The doctor's wife is still in bed and cautions her husband with platitudes about self-control and the dangers of an unruly temper. She questions him about the Dick Boulton incident and expresses disbelief in her husband's lies about Boulton's alleged intention to not pay for the doctor's saving his wife from dying from pneumonia.

Discovering Nick reading a book under a tree, Dr. Adams tells his son that his mother wants to see him, but Nick, still obviously very much in awe of his father, the miracle-working doctor, dismisses his mother's request. He wants to go hiking with his father. Dr. Adams is grateful for his son's company; he is eager to escape — escape to anywhere, anywhere where there aren't men like Dick Boulton. Earlier, he spent a long time cleaning his gun; clearly, he'd like to shoot Boulton. Now, though, his temper somewhat in check, he's willing to go anywhere with Nick — even to the nebulous place where "there's black squirrels."

Glossary

cross-cut saw a saw for cutting wood against the grain.

cant-hooks wooden levers with movable metal hooks near one end that are used for handling logs.

big log booms a chain of floating logs making a barrier to enclose other free-floating logs.

cord wood a pile of logs that will be used for burning in a fireplace.

half-breed a derogatory term used to refer to a person of mixed racial ancestry, especially American Indian and Caucasian.

a plug of tobacco a dense piece of chewing tobacco.

eye teeth the canine, or pointed and conical, teeth located in the upper jaw.

Christian Scientist a follower of Mary Baker Eddy (1821-1910), an American religious leader.

He who ruleth his spirit is greater than he that taketh a city. The quotation is from the Bible, Proverbs 16:31-32.

squaw an offensive term used to refer to a Native American woman or wife.

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