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The Sun Also Rises: Hemingway's Depiction Of The Traditional Hero

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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


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.



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