Masculinity in Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises”

Masculinity in Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises”

A New Masculine and Feminine Identity Understanding cliched ideas of masculinity is fairly simple, but the process of challenging these stereotypes by defining new ideas of what it means to be masculine is exceptionally difficult. Fishing, bullfghting, and war all emphasise masculine qualities. Men are expected to delight in these things, idealizing manly events in order to increase their own sense of masculinity. Even more importantly is a man’s sense of sexual mastery.

Stereotypically, a man is, above all else, sexually driven; always attempting to persuade a beautiful woman to accompany him behind losed doors. In Ernest Hemingway’s novel The Sun Also Rises, the idea of what it means to be masculine and feminine, amidst the post World War I Roaring Twenties, is critically and dramatically called into question. The narrator of the story, Jake Barnes, is a war veteran rendered impotent from an unspecified war injury. Because of his impotence, Jake’s sense of masculinity is unsurprisingly set in doubt, yet he also has other reasons to question his masculinity.

In stark comparison to Jake is his love interest–the love interest of virtually all the men in the novel–Lady Brett Ashley, ho places herself within Jake Barnes circle of friends as a new version of what it means to be feminine. In similar but opposite fashion to Jake’s inability to be masculine, Lady Brett Ashley is able to remain feminine despite having many typically masculine attributes usually deemed inappropriate for a woman. By the end of the novel both Jake and Brett represent a new embodiment of what are and are not appropriate masculine qualities for men and women.

Although they are still very lost and unsure about their place in society, their mutual casting-off of societal ormalities allows them to find solace in each other as the book reaches its end. The most significant challenge to Jake Barnes’ masculinity is his complete inability to be satisfied by traditional sexual acts. During World War l, he received an injury that permanently changed his life; in multiple parts of the novel it is implied that this injury has left Jake impotent. Jake’s injury makes him incapable of the traditional satisfaction found in sexual acts, so at first he tries to circumvent this challenge to his masculinity.

In the early part of the novel Jake picks up a prostitute in attempt to rtificially create this connection, “because of a vague sentimental idea that it would be nice to eat with someone” (Hemingway 22). He knows he can’t have sex with her, but wants to satisfy that same desire by spending time and “eating” with a prostitute. However, he is dissuaded from enjoying the encounter because of her lack of intellect, saying, “with her mouth closed [Georgette] was a rather pretty girl” (Hemingway 23). He settles for the company of a girl, but cannot enjoy her attractiveness he is distracted when she talks.

His compromised masculinity is lluminated early in the novel because the representative act of hiring a prostitute is unsuccessful beyond the obvious lack of sexual satisfaction. This inability to connect with a woman physically does not only limit Jake’s ability to connect sexually but also entirely infatuated with, tells him that she loves him, yet primarily because of his impotence she is unwilling to actually be in a relationship with Jake. His emasculation even gets in the way of his relationship with other men. Later in the novel while on a fishing trip, Jake speaks to his friend Bill Gorton about his war ound.

Jake likes the Bill’s advice, to “never mention your accident.. .work [the impotence] up into a mystery,” and also, “you don’t work. One group claims woman support you. Another group claims you’re impotent” (Hemingway 129). At this point Bill changes the topic as the two men dig deeper into the wilderness to find a decent fishing spot. Jake express his disappointment that Bill stopped giving him advice: “He had been going splendidly, but he stopped. I was afraid he thought he had hurt me with the crack about being impotent. I wanted to start him again” (Hemingway 129).

Jake enjoys the advice and corresponding connection he has with Bill, and is clearly not offended by the crack about his impotence. He wants to connect with others in a deep way, but similar to Brett casting him off because of his “accident,” Bill becomes uncomfortable with the conversation and resorts back to casual small talk. Because of Jake’s inability to find connection and support through his relationships with others, he is left to redefine his masculinity on his own. The old way of being masculine, the way Jake presumably wooed woman before the war, does not work for im any longer.

He has lost his sexual organ, and with it his old sense of masculinity. Though there is no way to know what Jake and the other characters were like before the war, it is clear that they have all been drastically changed and scarred by it. In addition to the physical wound Jake received in the war, he also suffers from deep identity problems unrelated to his war wound. One of his central desires is to begin a romantic relationship with Lady Brett Ashley, yet it seems too simple to believe the story would end ‘happily ever after’ if Jake had not had his accident.

He seems to ealize this as he reflects on his inability to have Brett, “l suppose she only wanted what she couldn’t have” (Hemingway 39). Understanding how Brett seems to slink around with many men in the novel, this is probably partially–if not entirely–true. Yet, as Jake begins to understand the insurmountable distance between him and Brett, he pimps out Brett to the dashing Pedro Romero. Robert Cohn, who has recently been involved in a love affair with Brett, dramatically calls out Jake for setting Brett up with Romero, “I’ll make you tell me’–he stepped forward–you damned pimpm (Hemingway 212).

It seems that because Jake is unable to have Brett for himself, he would have her sleep with a man he admires, instead of Robert Cohn. Jake is not ecstatic about the prospect of Brett with Romero, but he understands that he cannot provide a reasonable alternative for her. He offers to help her, saying, “what do you want me to do? ” to which she replies, “come on, lets go and find [Romero]” (Hemingway 204). Jake, as a war veteran and therefore a real man, is extremely troubled by Brett’s involvement with Cohn, who never served in the army.

Although Romero is not a veteran per se, he puts his life on the line in every bullfight erving in an isolated form of war that Jake admires greatly. Because of this, Romero serves as a proxy of his own love for Brett, and simultaneously draws Brett away from two men Jake does not admire in Robert Cohn and Mike Campbell; it seems Jake does infact “pimp” for Brett in the very sense that Cohn says. In many ways the earliest expectations for many women before World War I were drastically old fashioned when compared to the new, free expression flappers that grew popular in the 20’s.

Lady Brett Ashley is a prime example of this modern woman. Where Jake is struggling o find a new sense of what it means to be a man after the war, Brett is, in virtually the same manner, redefining what it means to be a woman. Early in the novel, Brett asserts herself as one of the boys. She is not an idealized representation of what the war veterans could have if they were not scared by the war, like Daisy Buchanan from The Great Gatsby, nor is she a pure and innocent girl unaffected by the war–her sexual promiscuity paints her as Just the opposite in fact. Brett is a new version of a woman.

A woman who, if picked up from the time period and placed into modern day New York, would not be that different from some modern woman now. As she introduces herself to Jake and his friends, she immediately places herself as Just another one of the boys. Brett calls herself a “chap,” a term usually used between two guys: Brett came up to the bar. “Hello, you chaps. ” “Hello, Brett,” I said. “Why aren’t you tight? ” “Never going to get tight any more. I say, give a chap a brandy and soda” (TSAR 29). She is knowingly challenging the expectations for women at the time, placing herself within the circle of Jake’s friends.

Jake describes her as being a bit boyish, “She wore slipover Jersey sweater and a tweed skirt, and her hair was brushed back like a boy’s” (Hemingway 29), but despite this boyish look and attitude, it is extremely clear that Jake and the other men find her to be exceptionally attractive. Jake makes this evident when he says, “Brett was damned good-looking.. .She was built with curves like the hull ofa racing yacht, and you missed none of it with that wool jersey’ (Hemingway 29), and Cohn appears to be equally enveloped by Brett: “She stood holding the glass and I saw Robert Cohn looking at her .. he had that look of eager, deserving expectation” (Hemingway 29). Men throughout the novel are entirely infatuated with her, and unsurprisingly, she loves the attention. There is some element about Brett, an element displayed by her boyish hair, name, and attitude, that captivates the men. It is this element that most separates Brett from the prostitute, where the prostitute was “a rather pretty girl” with “her mouth closed,” Brett’s boyish way of speaking increases her attractiveness. Additionally, Brett displays a masculine fascination for violent gore. During the mauling in the bullfight she hardly flinches: “How did it go? “Wonderfully! Simply perfect. I say, it is a spectacle! ” “How about the horses? ” “l couldn’t help looking at them. ” “She couldn’t take her eyes off them,” Mike said. “She’s an extraordinary wench. ” “They do have some rather awful things happen to them,” Brett said. “I couldn’t look away, though” (Hemingway 182). Jake’s unsuccessful experiment with the prostitute Georgette, rejection by Brett, and inability to connect with any other men in a meaningful way, leaves him with no to realize that his impotence is not the central reason he is unable to connect with Brett.

Through his fishing trip with Bill, and his interactions with both Montoya and Romero, Jake begins to identify very potent masculinity of aficion within himself. Aficion is described on page 147: Aficion means passion. An aficionado is one who is passionate about the bull-fghts. All the good bull-fghters stayed at Montoya’s hotel; that is, those with aficion stayed there … The photographs of bull-fghters Montoya had really believed in were framed. Photographs of bull-fghters who had been without aficion . .. did not mean anything. One day Montoya took them all out and dropped them in the waste-basket (Hemingway 147).

To have aficion is a powerful representation of masculinity. Montoya only cares for those that possess it, and Jake begins to become a master of it. He uses passion and honor to grasp aficion, which he holds onto as a new form of masculine identity: When they saw that I had aficion, and there was no password, no set questions that could bring it out, rather it was a sort of oral spiritual examination with the questions always a little on the defensive and never apparent, there was this same embarrassed putting the hand on the shoulder, or a “Buen hombre. ” But nearly always there was the actual touching.

It seemed as though they wanted to touch you to make it certain. This is the key for Jake. The key that allows him to find some sense of masculinity, and even more importantly, a sense of connection. Notice the emphasis on being touched. By acquiring aficion he is able to finally find a sense of bonding with others, and most amazingly this newfound persona begins to attract Brett for the same reasons Jake originally became infatuated with her. Jake found Brett’s comfort as an attractive female ,who embraces many masculine features, to be exceptionally attractive.

Her comfort level in the new discovered 1920’s female persona distinguishes her from the ikes of Georgette and others. In the same way, Jake’s passion for life, specifically bullfghting–his aficion–draws Brett to him in a way that the emasculated war hero persona never could. It is through these newly defined gender roles that Jake and Brett are finally able to bond. The bond over the passion of bullfghting, the thrills of this isolated war, and this separates Brett and Jakes relationship from all of Brett’s other relationships.

Their connection does not require the traditional masculinity that all of their friends possess, the kind that sends them off into the bustle of the fiesta ithout composure. Rather their relationship leaves them with composure that the other characters of the novel lack. Even Romero can not stand ground to the composure and aficion of Jake in real life. Romero is able to show amazing poise in the arena, “Romero killed directly below us. He killed not as he had been forced to by the last bull, but as he wanted to… The bull charged and Romero waited for the charge, the muleta held low, sighting along the blade, his feet firm.

Then without taking a step forward, he became one with the bull” (Hemingway 244). It is this sense f poise and calm that Jake finds as his representation of masculinity; he is able to stand with aficion as Brett threatens and challenges him, and finally, without taking a step, they are able to become one with each other. Where does the relationship go from this point on? And how comfortable are both Jake and Brett in blurred gender roles? It is difficult to speculate. What is clear is that Jake and Brett are together at the end. They are able to connect in a more permanent therefore separated.

Their final lines do not emphasize the love they hold for each ther in the present, nor do they talk about the possibilities of the future. Rather, they reflect on how beautiful their relationship could of been, presumably before the war: “Oh, Jake,’ Brett said, We could have had such a damned good time together,” to which Jake reflectively says, “Yes, Isn’t it pretty to think so? ” (Hemingway 273). The ending is a mixed bag of of feelings. Although it it wonderful that Jake and Brett have thrown off elements of the traditional expectations for their gender, they are still left stuck in the past.

They are unable to move on past their lost tradition, past the war. When tradition, and the accompanying expectations, lead a man to put himself in the trenches of war where he risks his life in order to be masculine, that tradition is understandably questioned. But once you have thrown off the cloak of tradition and lived by made up rules, how can you find it again? In the end it seems that both Jake and Brett are not able to. They are left holding onto each other, reflecting on what could have been with little to no hope about how pretty the future can be. Works Cited Hemingway, Ernest. The Sun Also Rises. New York: Scribner. 2003. Print