The story “The Doctor and the Doctor's Wife” by Ernest Hemingway features six characters—Henry (the doctor), Henry's wife, Nick, Dick Boulton, Eddy Boulton, and Billy Tabeshaw— but not all of them are equally important.
Eddy Boulton and Billy Tabeshaw do not speak and are overshadowed by Dick’s character who acts as their leader. Nick is only an episodic character in this short story, and his appearance is only relevant for the conflict between Henry and his wife. As a result, in this part of the study guide, we will only focus on characterizing Henry, Dick, and Henry's wife.
Although the story does not mention the family name ‘Adams’, we know that Hemingway wrote a series of semi-autobiographical stories in which Nick Adams is his literary alter-ego.
Henry is the main character in the short story. His outer characterization informs us he is a married doctor and “Nick’s father” (ll. 1-2), who lives in a cottage next to a lake and a wood.
The man’s inner characterization begins by suggesting that he is hypocritical and has questionable moral principles. He takes advantage of the fact that wood logs belonging to “White and McNally” (ll. 44) are often lost on the river to take them for his personal use. He prefers to think of them as “lost” (l. 10) and to assume that they would rot anyway if he did not use them:
If no one came for them they would be left to waterlog and rot on the beach. Nick's father always assumed that this was what would happen, and hired the Indians to come down from the camp and cut the logs up with... (ll. 17-21)
The doctor is deeply offended when “half-breed” Dick (l. 27) dares to accuse him of stealing the logs, even though the man does it half-jokingly:
The doctor's wife
The doctor's wife is a secondary character in the story, but she is relevant for the male-female conflict. Her outer characterization reveals that she is Nick’s mother, and a Christian Scientist (ll. 82-83). She also appears to be ill, as she sits in a “darkened room” (l. 84) with the “blinds drawn” (l. 79)
Her inner characterization surfaces from her attitude in the conversation with her husband. She appears to be a nagging, inquisitive woman who wants to know everything about her husband, perhaps because she is worried about what his actions might mean for her family: " ‘What was the trouble about, dear?’ ‘Nothing much.’ ‘Tell me, Henry. Please don't try and keep anything from me. What was the trouble about?’ " (ll. 91-93)
Dick Boulton is another secondary character in the short story, important for the way in which the doctor relates to him. The man’s outer characterization presents him as physically strong and with either a Native American mother or father: “Dick was a half-breed and many of the farmers around the lake believed he was really a white man.” (ll. 26-28), “Dick was a big man. He knew how big a man he was.” (ll. 56-58)
Dick chews tobacco and has a son named Eddy, whom he brings with him to cut the logs.
The man’s inner characterization suggests he is the leader of the group (which includes him, Eddy, and Billy), as he is the only one who does the talking with the doctor. He is characterized directly as a happy man who enjoys getting into fights, and as a lazy worker: “He was very lazy but a great worker once he was started.” (ll. 28-29);