myth of Narcissus is often misunderstood; many of the readers of the myth interpret the events as Narcissus gazing down at his own reflection in the water and falling in love with himself. The reality of the myth is that through some insufficiency of his own character, Narcissus is unable to identify that the reflection in the water is himself. The lack inside of Narcissus causes him to believe it's another person and he falls in love with this vision. A similar lack pervades through the characters of the story "Indian Camp" by Ernest Hemingway and "Good Country People" by Flannery O'Connor. In these stories, characters abound with paucities in nature but surfeits in egotism. This paper will examine the similarities in the imbalance of the moral fiber of these characters, the language that surrounds them to display this phenomenon and attempt to demonstrate how such visions of superiority have an ominous quality to them, much like Narcissus who died of thirst, afraid to touch his own reflection. This ominous quality at times brings the threat of danger or real harm.
Both stories demonstrate the presumptive behavior of educated people, or people who regard themselves as educated and show how such presumption acts as a cloak, veiling the truth. This cloak of presumption can prevent characters from seeing a situation for what it is. Hemingway takes strategic pains in describing Nick's father in the story "Indian Camp" and in showing how this character is blinded by his own experience and education. In this blindness he is only able to complete the perfunctory duties of his job as a doctor, like delivering a baby, but is unable to prevent or notice the real tragedy about to take place. After delivering the baby, Nick's father "…was feeling exalted and talkative as football players are in the dressing room after a game." Hemingway's choice of similes reveals a great deal about the doctor; after safely and successfully delivering the baby he feels like the victor in a sporting match and is speaking with bravado. He even goes so far as to give himself a verbal pat on the back, "That's one for the medical journal, George,' he said, 'Doing a Caesarian with a jackknife and sewing it up with nine-foot, tapered gut leaders.'" This praise he bestows on himself also reveals the ill regard with which he views the Indian woman. Clearly, performing a Caesarian with the coarsest of tools no doubt caused her untold amounts of pain on top of the anxiety that her baby could be in harm. Nick's father, however, shows no regret or concern towards this respect.
Arrogance mixed with indignance prevails in the Flannery O'Connor story, "Good Country People," via Hulga's words and actions. In response to her mother's suggestion that "…a smile never hurt anyone;" Hulga leaps up from the table saying, "Woman! Do you ever look inside? Do you ever look inside and see what you are not? God!" (174). Hulga does not merely allude to her mother's deficiencies in a thunderous manner, but continues with a further put down, "Malebranche was right: we are not our own light. We are not our own light!" Hulga is regurgitating one of the basic tenets of Malebranche, who is ironically a Catholic philosopher contrary to Hulga's atheism. Hulga intimates that we do not see the world around us by our own light, but by the light of God. Hulga's remark is excessively condescending as it is exclusive; she's referencing a thinker that her mother is unlikely to have heard of and is unlikely to understand the remark and will most likely experience a sense of inferiority which Hulga intentionally hoped to communicate.
The damage that the pomp and presumption of Nick's father has caused is apparent at the close of the story, at the moment he says, "Ought to have a look at the proud father" only to discover that the father had slit his own throat, a sight Nick's father can't even protect his own son from seeing. Hemingway's story ends with a sense of justice. Nick's father has to deal with the onslaught of questions provoked by seeing the corpse of the man who had committed suicide. Nick asks his father truly difficult questions, questions which expose his father's very real ignorance. Questions like, "Why did he kill himself, daddy?" And "Is dying hard, Daddy?" The narrator never tells us how old Nick is, but if he is still calling his father "daddy" we can assume that he's still quite young. This assumption makes the trauma that he's endured all the more disgraceful.
However, Hulga's sense of superiority borders perhaps on the pathological. When it comes to the dubious Bible seller, she sees herself not simply superior, but more powerful. The narrator tells us "…she imagined, that things came to such a pass that she could very easily seduce him and that then, of course, she had to reckon with his remorse. True genius can get an idea across even to an inferior mind" (185). Unlike Nick's father who seems to just consider himself extremely clever, Hulga regards herself as a brilliant mind. The higher plateau that she has placed herself intellectually and morally above everyone she encounters leaves her to have a ruder awakening, a more colossal fall.
Considering her herself better than everyone she meets, she is unable to identify the predatory elements in the Bible seller's personality, not able to realize the con man that he actually is until he has domination over her. For example, she has no rational fear of meeting a stranger alone by the gate, because she blindly accepts the way the innocent, almost foolish manner in which he presents himself, even though various signs indicate that all is not what it seems. For example, Hulga arrives at their designated meeting place only to have him appear suddenly from behind a bush across the highway, presumably observing her from his hiding place. Hulga notices he's carrying his unwieldy valise of Bibles, another odd decision for an afternoon of picnicking. None of these signs alarm Hulga in the slightest, not even when the Bible seller's perverse penchant surfaces immediately as he asks her where her wooden leg connects with her body (186). A similar phenomenon takes place in the story "Indian Camp" except perhaps heightened. The husband of the Indian woman in labor is not simply unnoticed but nearly invisible. No one seems to think it's odd that he's not there to greet the doctor; no one asks him to help deliver the child, nor does the doctor ask about the foot he cut badly with the axe three days earlier. When he rolls against the wall during the labor to presumably slit his own throat (18), it is an act which goes completely unseen by all characters, including Nick's father.
Uneducated in social cues of normalcy, the Bible seller's abrupt and repeated assertions of love do nothing to alarm Hulga. Considering him just a simpleton, she explains, "We are all damned,' she said, 'but some of us have taken off our blindfolds and see that there's nothing to see. It's kind of salvation.'" O'Connor employs this line with greatest of irony, as Hulga in a failure to see what's in front of her, meets her ruin. Despite her conviction and doggedly held beliefs, the persistent demands of the Bible seller breaks her down and he quickly turns the tables on her, demanding to see her most vulnerable spot, where her wooden leg connects to her body. Like an astute con man, he tells her that she's playing him for sucker which coaxes her into proving to him that she's not. His explanation for wanting to see it, "Because… it's what makes you different. You ain't like anybody else," she sees as his innocence striking out and finding the simple truth about her, or seeing her superiority and uniqueness. Little does Hulga know that the Bible seller is showing his astute prowess, baiting and manipulating her until she is putty in his hands. At no point does she consider that such a statement could have a morbid quality to it, that he fetishes her wooden leg, and is colored by a perverse need to possess it, rendering her exposed and weak. For example, the narrator makes pains to clue the reader of this, constantly describing his looks towards Hulga as if she were a fantastic zoo creature (183, 188). However, O'Connor endeavors to describe their similarities, which run deeper than they might appear. If she's an animal at the zoo, he's a dog, constantly panting at her side, the narrator tells us. "Indian Camp" possesses those same theriomorphic tendencies. The Indian woman in labor is held down like a rabid dog. Out of intense pain she bites Uncle George who even refers to her as "Damn squaw bitch."
"Indian Camp" also shows how Nick's father too possesses a breed of arrogance so extreme that it almost has a…