Essay, Research Paper: Sun Also Rises And Hemingway Hero

Literature: Ernest Hemingway

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Prevalent among many of Ernest Hemingway's novels is the concept popularly known
as the "Hemingway hero", an ideal character readily accepted by
American readers as a "man's 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 Hemingway's
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. Jake's 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 mustn't. You must know. I can't stand it, that's all. Oh darling,
please understand!', 'Don't 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 Brett's 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: "'Couldn't we go off in the country for a while?', 'It
wouldn't be any good. I'll go if you like. But I couldn't live quietly in the
country. Not with my own true love', 'I know', 'Isn't it rotten? There isn't any
use my telling you I love you', 'You know I love you', 'Let's not talk.
Talking's all bilge'" (55, Ch. 7). Brett declines Jake's 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 loves. Since Jake
can never be Brett's 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 Brett's
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 Brett's undeniable love for Jake, she is engaged to marry
another. Mike Campbell is Brett's 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
Brett's brief affairs with other men: "'Mark you. Brett's had affairs with
men before. She tells me all about everything'" (143, Ch. 13). Mike
appreciates Brett's 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 Brett's beauty: "'I say
Brett, you are a lovely piece. Don't you think she's 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: "'Brett's got a bull-fighter. She had a Jew named Cohn, but
he turned out badly. Brett's got a bull-fighter. A beautiful, bloody
bull-fighter'" (206, Ch. 18). Despite Brett's 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: "'He's so damned nice and he's so awful.
He's 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 Hemingway's 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 1920's 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:
"'There's 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 Brett's 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 Brett's
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 Brett's mind and has become dependent on her attention and
affection. In his rampant drunkenness, Mike blasts Cohn: "'What if Brett
did sleep with you? She's slept with lots of better people than you. Tell me
Robert,. Why do you follow Brett around like a poor bloody steer? Don't you know
you're 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 couldn't 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 Brett's 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 didn't say much, but he kept getting up
and getting knocked down again. Cohn couldn't 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 Cohn's 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 man. Pedro Romero, on the other hand, comes closest to the
embodiment of Hemingway's 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 can't help it. I'm a goner now, anyway.
Don't you see the difference? I've got to do something. I've got to do something
I really want to do. I've 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 Cohn's fear and weakness. 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 Brett's 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.
Brett's acceptance or rejection of particular qualities in each of the four men
she becomes involved with help define Hemingway's 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, Hemingway's 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
Pedro's 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,
Jake's 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
wrong. 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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