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The Sun Also Rises: Hemingway’s Depiction Of The T

Updated November 1, 2018

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The Sun Also Rises: Hemingway’s Depiction Of The T essay

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raditional HeroPrevalent among many of Ernest Hemingways novels is the concept
popularly known as the Hemingway hero, an ideal character readily
accepted by American readers as a mans man. In The Sun Also Rises,
four different men are compared and contrasted as they engage in some
form of relationship with Lady Brett Ashley, a near-nymphomaniac
Englishwoman who indulges in her passion for sex and control. Brett
plans to marry her fiancee for superficial reasons, completely ruins one
man emotionally and spiritually, separates from another to preserve the
idea of their short-lived affair and to avoid self-destruction, and
denies and disgraces the only man whom she loves most dearly. All her
relationships occur in a period of months, as Brett either accepts or
rejects certain values or traits of each man. Brett, as a dynamic and
self-controlled woman, and her four love interests help demonstrate
Hemingways standard definition of a man and/or masculinity. Each man
Brett has a relationship with in the novel possesses distinct qualities
that enable Hemingway to explore what it is to truly be a man. The
Hemingway man thus presented is a man of action, of self-discipline and
self-reliance, and of strength and courage to confront all weaknesses,
fears, failures, and even death.

Jake Barnes, as the narrator and supposed hero of the novel, fell in
love with Brett some years ago and is still powerfully and
uncontrollably in love with her. However, Jake is unfortunately a
casualty of the war, having been emasculated in a freak accident. Still
adjusting to his impotence at the beginning of the novel, Jake has lost
all power and desire to have sex. Because of this, Jake and Brett
cannot be lovers and all attempts at a relationship that is sexually
fulfilling are simply futile. Brett is a passionate, lustful woman who
is driven by the most intimate and loving act two may share, something
that Jake just cannot provide her with. Jakes emasculation only puts
the two in a grandly ironic situation. Brett is an extremely passionate
woman but is denied the first man she feels true love and admiration
for. Jake has loved Brett for years and cannot have her because of his
inability to have sex. It is obvious that their love is mutual when
Jake tries to kiss Brett in their cab ride home: You mustnt. You
must know. I cant stand it, thats all. Oh darling, please
understand!, Dont you love me?, Love you? I simply turn all to
jelly when you touch me (26, Ch. 4). This scene is indicative of their
relationship as Jake and Brett hopelessly desire each other but realize
the futility of further endeavors. Together, they have both tried to
defy reality, but failed.Jake is frustrated by Bretts reappearance
into his life and her confession that she is miserably unhappy. Jake
asks Brett to go off with him to the country for bit: Couldnt we go
off in the country for a while?, It wouldnt be any good. Ill go if
you like. But I couldnt live quietly in the country. Not with my own
true love, I know, Isnt it rotten? There isnt any use my telling
you I love you, You know I love you, Lets not talk. Talkings all
bilge (55, Ch. 7). Brett declines Jakes pointless attempt at being
together. Both Brett and Jake know that any relationship beyond a
friendship cannot be pursued. Jake is still adjusting to his impotence
while Brett will not sacrifice a sexual relationship for the man she

Since Jake can never be Bretts lover, they are forced to create a new
relationship for themselves, perhaps one far more dangerous than that of
mere lovers – they have become best friends. This presents a great
difficulty for Jake, because Bretts presence is both pleasurable and
agonizing for him. Brett constantly reminds him of his handicap and
thus Jake is challenged as a man in the deepest, most personal sense
possible. After the departure of their first meeting, Jake feels
miserable: This was Brett, that I had felt like crying about. Then I
thought of her walking up the street and of course in a little while I
felt like hell again (34, Ch. 4). Lady Brett Ashley serves as a
challenge to a weakness Jake must confront.Since his war experience,
Jake has attempted to reshape the man he is and the first step in doing
this is to accept his impotence.

Despite Bretts undeniable love for Jake, she is engaged to marry
another. Mike Campbell is Bretts fiancee, her next planned marriage
after two already failed ones. Mike is ridiculously in love with Brett
and though she knows this she still decides to marry him. In fact,
Brett is only to marry Mike because she is tired of drifting and simply
needs an anchor.Mike loves Brett but is not dependent on her
affection. Moreover, he knows about and accepts Bretts brief affairs
with other men: Mark you. Bretts had affairs with men before. She
tells me all about everything (143, Ch. 13). Mike appreciates Bretts
beauty, as do all the other males in the novel, but perhaps this is as
deep as his love for her goes. In his first scene in the novel, Mike
cannot stop commenting and eliciting comments on Bretts beauty: I say
Brett, you are a lovely piece. Dont you think shes beautiful? (79,
Ch. 8). He repeatedly proposes similar questions but does not make any
observant or profound comments on his wife-to-be. In fact, throughout
the entirety of the novel, Mike continues this pattern, once referring
to Brett as just a lovely, healthy wench as his most observant
remark. Furthermore, Mike exhibits no self-control when he becomes
drunk, making insensitive statements that show his lack of regard for
Brett and others. After Brett shows interest in Pedro Romero, the
bullfighter, Mike rudely yells: Tell him bulls have no balls! Tell him
Brett wants to see him put on those green pants. Tell him Brett is
dying to know how he can get into those pants! (176, Ch. 16). In
addition, Mike cannot contemplate the complexities of Brett and her
relationships: Bretts got a bull-fighter. She had a Jew named Cohn,
but he turned out badly. Bretts got a bull-fighter. A beautiful,
bloody bull-fighter (206, Ch. 18). Despite Bretts brief affair with
the bullfighter, she will eventually return to Mike who will no doubt
openly welcome her again. Brett is a strong woman, who can control most
men, and Mike is no exception. She vaguely simplifies their
relationship when she explains to Jake that she plans to return to him:
Hes so damned nice and hes so awful. Hes my sort of thing (243,
Ch. 19). Mike is not complex enough to challenge Brett, but she does go
on and decide to accept his simplicity anyways. Furthermore, despite his
engagement with Brett, Mike betrays Hemingways ideal man. Although he
is self-reliant, Mike possesses little self-control or dignity.

Engaged to one man and in love with another, Brett demonstrates her
disregard for the 1920s double standards. Very early in the beginning
of the novel, she reveals to Jake that she had invited Robert Cohn to go
with her on a trip to San Sebastian. Cohn, a Jewish, middle-aged writer
disillusioned with his life in Paris, wants to escape to South America
where he envisions meeting the ebony princesses he romanticized from a
book. However, he cannot persuade Jake to accompany him and then
completely forgets about this idea upon meeting Brett. Cohn is
immediately enamored with her beauty and falls in love with her:
Theres a certain quality about her, a certain fineness. She seems to
be absolutely fine and straight (38, Ch. 5). Cohn is immature in his
idealization of Bretts beauty, as he falls in love at first sight.
Furthermore, like an adolescent, he attempts to satisfy his curiosity
about Brett by asking Jake numerous questions about her.

After Cohn and Bretts short-lived affair in San Sebastian, Cohn is
nervous around Jake: Cohn had been rather nervous ever since we had met
at Bayone. He did not know whether we knew Brett had been with him at
San Sebastian, and it made him rather awkward (94, Ch. 10). Moreover,
Cohn is scared that when Brett appears she will embarrass him and so he
does not have the maturity to behave appropriately in front of Jake and
his friend, Bill Gorton. Nonetheless, Cohn is proud of his affair with
Brett and believes that this conquest makes him a hero. When Brett
appears with her fiancee Mike, Cohn still believes that they are
destined for an ideal love despite her blatant coldness to him.
However, it is apparent that Brett simply used Cohn to satisfy her
sexual cravings: He behaved rather well (83, Ch. 9). Cohn does not
understand the triviality of their trip to San Sebastian in Bretts mind
and has become dependent on her attention and affection. In his rampant
drunkenness, Mike blasts Cohn: What if Brett did sleep with you?
Shes slept with lots of better people than you. Tell me Robert,. Why
do you follow Brett around like a poor bloody steer? Dont you know
youre not wanted? (143, Ch. 13). Cohn is like an adolescent, as he
vainly ignores the truth and continues to love Brett: He could not stop
looking at Brett. It seemed to make him happy. It must have been
pleasant for him to see her looking so lovely, and know he had been away
with her and that every one knew it. They couldnt take that away from
him (146, Ch. 13). Cohn over-exaggerates the significance of his
affair with Brett. He does not understand that Brett simply used him
and that their brief relationship has no meaning to her. Moreover, Cohn
cannot conduct himself with dignity and he intrudes upon people and
places where he is obviously not wanted.

Naively, Cohn dwells on the fact that he has slept with Brett and
obsesses with her. When Brett begins to show signs of interest in Pedro
Romero, Cohn irrationally approaches Jake demanding to know Bretts
whereabouts, punches him in the jaw, and then calls him a pimp (190-91,
Ch. 17). Later that night he encounters Pedro and Brett together in
their hotel room. His actions of knocking Pedro down repeatedly until
he eventually tires demonstrate a divergence from his character. Cohn
for the first time takes some action in what he feels, rather than
merely thinking about it or complaining about it. However, despite his
persistence, Pedro does not remain down according to Mike: The
bull-fighter fellow was rather good. He didnt say much, but he kept
getting up and getting knocked down again. Cohn couldnt knock him
out (202, Ch. 17). Eventually, Cohn gives up on this pursuit, is
knocked twice by Pedro, and loses his battle for Brett. These events
show that Cohns boxing skills, a defense mechanism that he once used in
college, will no longer pull him out of rough situations. Cohn fails to
show the strength and courage needed to face the circumstances like a

Pedro Romero, on the other hand, comes closest to the embodiment of
Hemingways hero. Brett is almost immediately enchanted by this
handsome, nineteen-year-old, a promising matador. Pedro, a fearless
figure who frequently confronts death in his occupation, is not afraid
in the bullring and controls the bulls like a master. Pedro is the
first man since Jake who causes Brett to lose her self-control: I
cant help it. Im a goner now, anyway. Dont you see the difference?
Ive got to do something. Ive got to do something I really want to
do. Ive lost my self-respect (183, Ch. 16). In contrast, Pedro
maintains his self-control in his first encounter with Brett: He felt
there was something between them. He must have felt it when Brett gave
him her hand. He was being very careful (185, Ch. 16). Brett falls in
love with Pedro as a hero who promises new excitement. In the scene
between Pedro and Cohn described previously, Pedro demonstrates his
confidence and strong will. Knocked down time and time again, Pedro
rises each time refusing to be beaten. His controlled and dignified
demeanor in an unusual situation contrast sharply with Cohns fear and

Soon Pedro and Brett run off together but when he demands too much from
her, Brett asks him to leave. He was ashamed of me for a while, you
know. He wanted me to grow my hair out. He said it would make me more
womanly. In addition, Pedro really wanted to marry Brett because
he wanted to make it sure Brett could never go away from him (242,
Ch. 19). Pedro will not compromise his expectations for a woman and
will not accommodate Bretts character even though he loves her. In his
affair with Brett, he has performed according to his rules and when he
discovers that his ideals are impossible for Brett to accept, he leaves
willingly. Pedro has been left untainted by Brett, sustaining his
strong-willed, correct behavior. Moreover, Pedro leaves without sulking
like Cohn or whining like Mike.

Bretts acceptance or rejection of particular qualities in each of the
four men she becomes involved with help define Hemingways male hero.
Mike is not dependent on Brett but does not maintain his dignity and
self-discipline in his drunken sloppiness. Cohn is a complaining, weak,
accommodating adolescent who has little understanding of others or
himself. Pedro is the near perfect embodiment of strength, courage, and
confidence. Jake is the lesser version of this perfection as the hero
of the novel. Hence, Hemingways ideal hero is self-controlled,
self-reliant, and fearless. He is a man of action and he does not,
under any circumstances, compromise his beliefs or standards.

Jake, as the supposed hero of the novel, is challenged by his
emasculation in the deepest sense possible, because the traditional ways
in which masculinity are defined are insufficient and impossible for
him. Jake needs the strength and courage to confront his impotence
because he has not yet adjusted to this weakness. It is ironic that
Cohn, a character least like the Hemingway man, has slept with Brett
while Jake will never be able to accomplish this feat. However, because
Cohn so inadequately fulfills the roles of a true man, Hemingway implies
that the sexual conquest of a woman does not alone satisfy the
definition of masculinity.

Nevertheless, Jake fails to fulfill other requisites of the Hemingway
man as he deviates from his own ethical standards. Jake sees that Brett
is mesmerized by Pedros skillful control and extraordinary handsomeness
and recognizes the possibility of furnishing her carnal desires with the
most perfect specimen of manhood that he can offer in place of himself.
Jake thus betrays the aficionados of Pamplona and the trust of a
long-time friend, Montoya, who fear that this rising star may be ruined
by women. Thus, regardless of his physical impotence, Jakes true
weakness is the impotence of his will and the supposed hero of the novel
is flawed due to his failure to adhere to what he believes is right and
Hemingway thus refrains from presenting a true hero in his novel. With
the absence of a leading male ideal, Hemingway betrays the larger
socio-cultural assumptions about men and masculinity and questions the
conventional means in which they are defined in his society.


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