Hemingway’s Hard-Boiled Everything

an essay from my first semester as an English major at UNLV on Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises

With her old fedora hat, slip-over jersey, tweed skirt, streak of faded lipstick, Lady Brett Ashley slashed and burned through life like a fire through a Russian forest. Desperate desires for hot coffee, liquor, sex, cigarettes, and ultimate pleasure well up within this beauty who lives one moment to the next, not planning to fail, but failing to plan. Throughout The Sun Also Rises war weighs on her consciousness, and reality closes on her mind while fumes of tobacco soil her cropped, boyish hair. As a novelty, she fits in with the claustrophobic 1920s society of consumption, urban sprawl, gossip columns, credit cards, illuminated billboards, and commercial airplane flights (Mintz, McNeil). Her love interest, Jake Barnes follows suit, berating Cohn behind his back, crying in the glistening moonlight, believing in his wound transformative, all the while performing gracefully under pressure; he truly is dead in the world of the living. As Ernest Hemingway’s creation in The Sun Also Rises, Brett exemplifies carelessness, the spirit of the “Lost Generation,” and Jake acts as her cohort, a fellow lost soul in the whirlwind of the Twenties: in-group mentality, pride, and wounds push Brett and Jake into a search for pleasure outside their own relationship.

Brett and Jake ride life as if it was some sort of bull needing to be tamed. Brett loves Jake beyond sexual desire—he ranks as the only man stable enough to endure her to the end. Cohn, with his effeminate personality and feeble mindedness was only a passing fancy while Mike was far too aggravated by her lack of commitment to him, but Jake was her friend, her ultimate ally, and love who she could not physically make love to: they were bonded by their attraction and stabilized by their mental love affair with one another. Hemingway sought to create a pair who loved deeply, but could not make love with one another, an oxymoron at its finest. Hemingway’s Brett and Jake cannot consummate their love, and are forever in an endless cycle of an on and off relationship with Brett even saying “I can’t do this anymore.”

Brett, despite her aristocratic title as “Lady Brett Ashley,” aims to present herself as a fellow “chap” who does not want anything to do with fancy, stuck-up, posh people; in fact, she shies away from self-aggrandizement, preferring to assimilate and go unnoticed, but she cannot. Her beauty erects a concrete wall between her and the rest of humanity But, she is careless with her title and her unique beauty. She’s an alcoholic. She’s a smoker. She’s practically a whore. She’s not one of the guys. She’s a careless person who refuses to look after herself and take others’ feelings into consideration. Lady Brett Ashley is not a lady nor a “chap.” Rather she, like Jake, is a lost soul from the war, just surviving off of the scraps from the field of battle, living each day as her last, she trails from one man to the next, trying to please herself all the while weakening her mental abilities to deal with the lingering stress of war. She’s careless with herself and the war because of her fear, and as Jake puts it, “really she was afraid of so many things” (Hemingway 34).

Alongside her own carelessness, Brett exhibits a new way of living—fast and in the moment, adopting a live free die young attitude towards life which characterized her generation. The bill-fighter, Belmonte, is often analyzed as being the spirit of the “Lost Generation” because of his feelings of purposeless existence, but Brett has a higher degree of these feelings, seen in her behavior and perspectives. Behavior-wise she, as aforementioned, is careless, leading a life entrenched in the present, with no eye to the past or the future while drinking her weight daily, so much so that Mike is always alert and ready to “protect her.”

Jake, being emasculated by his war wound, is unable to have coitus with Brett, but that does not stop him from fraternizing with her. They are old friends with a history and a uncompromisable bond. A sun has set on Jake and his love due to the war, a sun “neither benign nor bountiful, its heat is sterile, its light cold” (Waldhorn 94). The war made him only a friend to Brett, but Brett clearly met Jake in the hospital to help him with this wound—their love came to fruition because of this chance hospital meeting, and it serves as the basis for their friendship. Jake is Brett’s cohort, friend, or colleague, rather than lover, due to his inability to physically make direct contact with her, and that is what separates Jake from Brett’s other lovers. Jake maintains his position as a cohort because he is able to suffer the “torment of reality without whining,” but he can never move up in Brett’s mind to a lover, his wound makes sure of that (Waldhorn 104).

Despite his label as Brett’s cohort or friend, the war forced Jake into a senseless, lost phase which transformed him into a manic depressive, thriving and surviving only on Brett’s validation, and his own rigid schedule. Jake’s narration swiftly progresses the plot of the novel, and Jake becomes an actor and witness to all that is happening with his friends and his own internal dialogue (Waldhorn 94); however, he plunges into an episode of complete distress in the darkness of the night, and allows all his pain well up and slide, one by one, down his scrunched up face. Why does he feel the need to cry at this moment in the novel? Hemingway purposefully chose to include this scene of Jake as a vulnerable, faulty human, and it illustrates that the feeling of being lost penetrates the soul, and makes people aware of the world. As author Rebecca Solnit writes, “to be lost is to be fully present, and to be fully present is to be capable of being in uncertainty and mystery” (Solnit 5); Jake clearly fathomed what was occurring in this watery moment, and he felt all that was wrong with his relationship with Brett—he felt inadequate, but, more importantly, he felt lost.

Brett and Jake resort to stimulation and pleasure to satisfy their carnal desires which contribute to their depression and confusion (Hemingway 32). And, while they abuse themselves, everyone outside the confines of their arbitrary in-group suffers in their wake. Jake and Bretts’ in-group—featuring Bill, Mike, Count Mippipopolous, Pedro Romero, Frances, Harvey, and Wilson-Harris—groups their friends into a social bubble based on intrinsic factors or qualities, like authenticity, class, virility, fecundity, public behavior or favoritism (Whitbourne). The relationship dynamics between the members of the in-group and the out-group are not friendly, and like the bulls and steers in Pamplona, the in-group and the out-group are each an enemy to each other, correlating to Hemingway’s and Thomas Hobbes’ pessimistic view of human nature which includes the inevitable demise of equality and the fermentation of a full-fledged fight for power (Hobbes 238). Here, the out-group mainly symbolizes Cohn, and since he is the only one in the novel who squarely fits into this social category, Brett and Jake can have a more intimate relationship because of their social connections, similarities, and standings because Cohn mentally deemed lesser by the pair of them. Brett and Jake’s in-group mentality joins them further while Cohn stands as the socially sanctioned outsider, the punching bag of the in-group, the man who no one really wants to be with.

Brett and Jake’s relationship mentality extends into how they visualize themselves: each person has an insurmountable pride that keeps them entrenched in their own minds and ego-complex. Both boast a high degree of pride, here meaning a delight with themselves and with their relationship. Jake blushes at the mention of his name by Brett, and buffs up his ego especially when she tells others that he is her only friend. His phallocentric mentality, dependent on his male identity as a symbol of social power and dominance, is greatly boosted by Brett’s words about him and him only (Sanday 430). In turn, when Brett reveals she has slept with Cohn and multiple other men, including Pedro and Mike, Jake feels ultimately dejected and worthless. His pride is linked to Brett’s opinion of him.

Although, Brett is not solely dependent on Jake: her pride morphs around whichever man she’s infatuated with at the moment, whether it be Cohn, Mike, Count, or Romero. Brett violently uses her pride in herself to justify sleeping around with other men, and not being faithful to a single one because she feels entitled, because of her beauty, to be the prime, alpha female. There’s a delicate balance of the two and their intertwining pride.

Jake’s emasculation or war wound, ranks as a major and clear implication in Sun, but Brett also faces some wounds, all of which are directly or indirectly linked to her service in WWI. Because Brett admires masculinity in general, her hurt, longing for Jake wains on her heart, wounding it mercilessly every time they are together. When she sees the bulls, admiring their beauty (Hemingway ??), she sidelines Jake and injures him again, but by saying that she also hurts herself—she reminds herself that she can never have Jake before his “supposed to be funny” wound (Hemingway 34). This statement, albeit said after the war, draws upon it because Jake would have been a “whole” man if it was not for the war, or if he would have come out of the war like the Count, then he would have been a better man to Brett, but Jake just believes that. Brett, despite Jake’s wound, still reserves some intimacy for him, but she has to limit it, and she loves him so much that she can never go all the way, for fear of herself and Jake. When Brett is first introduced in the novel, and she goes off with Jake, that appears as the only moment where Brett denies herself pleasure, and for Jake’s sake. That is a pure act of love, a type of restraint only utilized when that love is infinite.

Because Jake depends on a phallocentric model of masculinity, meaning he basis his manliness on his ability to reproduce or “use the penis to dominate their women,” he automatically feels lesser than his male counterparts (Sanday 430).

Views that people have of their own and others’ positions in society. Individuals seek confirmation from others that they occupy the position on the social landscape that they claim to occupy. War as a purposeful, organized, and socially sanctioned combat involving killing.

“The things that happened could only have happened during a fiesta. Everything became quite unreal finally and it seemed as though nothing could have any consequences. It seemed out of place to think of consequences during the fiesta” (Hemingway 158)

“They were careless people…they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made” (F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby)


image from Deviant Art


Works Cited

Fitzgerald, F. Scott. “Chapter IX.” The Great Gatsby. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1925. 187-88. Print.

Hemingway, Ernest. The Sun Also Rises. New York: Scribner Paperback Fiction, 1995. Print.

Mintz, S., and S. McNeil. “The Consumer Economy and Mass Entertainment.” Digital History. Digital History, 2013. Web. 24 Nov. 2014. <http://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/disp_textbook.cfm?smtID=2&psid=3396&gt;.

Hobbes, Thomas. Leviathan. London, 1651. Crowston, Clare H. Sources of Western Society: From the Age of Exploration to the Present. Comp. John P. McKay. 3rd ed. Vol. 2. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2013. 237-240.

Sanday, P. R. (1990). Fraternity Gang Rape: Sex. Broth and Privilege on Campus. New York: New York University Press.

Solnit, Rebecca. A Field Guide to Getting Lost. New York: Penguin, 2006. Print.

Waldhorn, Arthur. A Reader’s Guide to Ernest Hemingway. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse UP, 2002. Print.

Whitbourne, Susan K., Ph.D. “In-groups, Out-groups, and the Psychology of Crowds.” Psychology Today: Health, Help, Happiness + Find a Therapist. Sussex Directories, Inc., 7 Dec. 2010. Web. 01 Dec. 2014.

 

 

 

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