The Hemingway Hero Essay, Research Paper
The Sun Also Rises: Hemingway’s depiction of the traditional hero The Hemingway Hero Prevalent among many of Ernest Hemingway s novels is the conceptpopularly known as the Hemingway hero , an ideal character readilyaccepted by American readers as a man s man . In The Sun Also Rises,four different men are compared and contrasted as they engage in someform of relationship with Lady Brett Ashley, a near-nymphomaniacEnglishwoman who indulges in her passion for sex and control. Brettplans to marry her fiancee for superficial reasons, completely ruins oneman emotionally and spiritually, separates from another to preserve theidea of their short-lived affair and to avoid self-destruction, anddenies and disgraces the only man whom she loves most dearly. All herrelationships occur in a period of months, as Brett either accepts orrejects certain values or traits of each man. Brett, as a dynamic andself-controlled woman, and her four love interests help demonstrateHemingway s standard definition of a man and/or masculinity. Each manBrett has a relationship with in the novel possesses distinct qualitiesthat enable Hemingway to explore what it is to truly be a man. TheHemingway man thus presented is a man of action, of self-discipline andself-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 inlove with Brett some years ago and is still powerfully anduncontrollably in love with her. However, Jake is unfortunately acasualty of the war, having been emasculated in a freak accident. Stilladjusting to his impotence at the beginning of the novel, Jake has lostall power and desire to have sex. Because of this, Jake and Brettcannot be lovers and all attempts at a relationship that is sexuallyfulfilling are simply futile. Brett is a passionate, lustful woman whois driven by the most intimate and loving act two may share, somethingthat Jake just cannot provide her with. Jake s emasculation only putsthe two in a grandly ironic situation. Brett is an extremely passionatewoman but is denied the first man she feels true love and admirationfor. Jake has loved Brett for years and cannot have her because of hisinability to have sex. It is obvious that their love is mutual whenJake tries to kiss Brett in their cab ride home: You mustn t. Youmust know. I can t stand it, that s all. Oh darling, pleaseunderstand! , Don t you love me? , Love you? I simply turn all tojelly when you touch me (26, Ch. 4). This scene is indicative of theirrelationship as Jake and Brett hopelessly desire each other but realizethe futility of further endeavors. Together, they have both tried todefy reality, but failed. Jake is frustrated by Brett s reappearanceinto his life and her confession that she is miserably unhappy. Jakeasks Brett to go off with him to the country for bit: Couldn t we gooff in the country for a while? , It wouldn t be any good. I ll go ifyou like. But I couldn t live quietly in the country. Not with my owntrue love , I know , Isn t it rotten? There isn t any use my tellingyou I love you , You know I love you , Let s not talk. Talking s allbilge (55, Ch. 7). Brett declines Jake s pointless attempt at beingtogether. Both Brett and Jake know that any relationship beyond afriendship cannot be pursued. Jake is still adjusting to his impotencewhile Brett will not sacrifice a sexual relationship for the man sheloves. Since Jake can never be Brett s lover, they are forced to create a newrelationship for themselves, perhaps one far more dangerous than that ofmere lovers – they have become best friends. This presents a greatdifficulty for Jake, because Brett s presence is both pleasurable andagonizing for him. Brett constantly reminds him of his handicap andthus Jake is challenged as a man in the deepest, most personal sensepossible. After the departure of their first meeting, Jake feelsmiserable: This was Brett, that I had felt like crying about. Then Ithought of her walking up the street and of course in a little while Ifelt like hell again (34, Ch. 4). Lady Brett Ashley serves as achallenge to a weakness Jake must confront. Since his war experience,Jake has attempted to reshape the man he is and the first step in doingthis is to accept his impotence. Despite Brett s undeniable love for Jake, she is engaged to marryanother. Mike Campbell is Brett s fiancee, her next planned marriageafter two already failed ones. Mike is ridiculously in love with Brettand 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 simplyneeds an anchor. Mike loves Brett but is not dependent on heraffection. Moreover, he knows about and accepts Brett s brief affairswith other men: Mark you. Brett s had affairs with men before. Shetells me all about everything (143, Ch. 13). Mike appreciates Brett sbeauty, as do all the other males in the novel, but perhaps this is asdeep as his love for her goes. In his first scene in the novel, Mikecannot stop commenting and eliciting comments on Brett s beauty: I sayBrett, you are a lovely piece. Don t you think she s beautiful? (79,Ch. 8). He repeatedly proposes similar questions but does not make anyobservant or profound comments on his wife-to-be. In fact, throughoutthe entirety of the novel, Mike continues this pattern, once referringto Brett as just a lovely, healthy wench as his most observantremark. Furthermore, Mike exhibits no self-control when he becomesdrunk, making insensitive statements that show his lack of regard forBrett and others. After Brett shows interest in Pedro Romero, thebullfighter, Mike rudely yells: Tell him bulls have no balls! Tell himBrett wants to see him put on those green pants. Tell him Brett isdying to know how he can get into those pants! (176, Ch. 16). Inaddition, Mike cannot contemplate the complexities of Brett and herrelationships: 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 withthe bullfighter, she will eventually return to Mike who will no doubtopenly welcome her again. Brett is a strong woman, who can control mostmen, and Mike is no exception. She vaguely simplifies theirrelationship 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 goon and decide to accept his simplicity anyways. Furthermore, despite hisengagement with Brett, Mike betrays Hemingway s ideal man. Although heis self-reliant, Mike possesses little self-control or dignity. Engaged to one man and in love with another, Brett demonstrates herdisregard for the 1920 s double standards. Very early in the beginningof the novel, she reveals to Jake that she had invited Robert Cohn to gowith her on a trip to San Sebastian. Cohn, a Jewish, middle-aged writerdisillusioned with his life in Paris, wants to escape to South Americawhere he envisions meeting the ebony princesses he romanticized from abook. However, he cannot persuade Jake to accompany him and thencompletely 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 tobe absolutely fine and straight (38, Ch. 5). Cohn is immature in hisidealization of Brett s beauty, as he falls in love at first sight .Furthermore, like an adolescent, he attempts to satisfy his curiosityabout Brett by asking Jake numerous questions about her. After Cohn and Brett s short-lived affair in San Sebastian, Cohn isnervous around Jake: Cohn had been rather nervous ever since we had metat Bayone. He did not know whether we knew Brett had been with him atSan Sebastian, and it made him rather awkward (94, Ch. 10). Moreover,Cohn is scared that when Brett appears she will embarrass him and so hedoes not have the maturity to behave appropriately in front of Jake andhis friend, Bill Gorton. Nonetheless, Cohn is proud of his affair withBrett and believes that this conquest makes him a hero. When Brettappears with her fiancee Mike, Cohn still believes that they aredestined for an ideal love despite her blatant coldness to him.However, it is apparent that Brett simply used Cohn to satisfy hersexual cravings: He behaved rather well (83, Ch. 9). Cohn does notunderstand the triviality of their trip to San Sebastian in Brett s mindand has become dependent on her attention and affection. In his rampantdrunkenness, Mike blasts Cohn: What if Brett did sleep with you?She s slept with lots of better people than you. Tell me Robert,. Whydo you follow Brett around like a poor bloody steer? Don t you knowyou re not wanted? (143, Ch. 13). Cohn is like an adolescent, as hevainly ignores the truth and continues to love Brett: He could not stoplooking at Brett. It seemed to make him happy. It must have beenpleasant for him to see her looking so lovely, and know he had been awaywith her and that every one knew it. They couldn t take that away fromhim (146, Ch. 13). Cohn over-exaggerates the significance of hisaffair with Brett. He does not understand that Brett simply used himand that their brief relationship has no meaning to her. Moreover, Cohncannot conduct himself with dignity and he intrudes upon people andplaces where he is obviously not wanted. Naively, Cohn dwells on the fact that he has slept with Brett andobsesses with her. When Brett begins to show signs of interest in PedroRomero, Cohn irrationally approaches Jake demanding to know Brett swhereabouts, punches him in the jaw, and then calls him a pimp (190-91,Ch. 17). Later that night he encounters Pedro and Brett together intheir hotel room. His actions of knocking Pedro down repeatedly untilhe eventually tires demonstrate a divergence from his character. Cohnfor the first time takes some action in what he feels, rather thanmerely thinking about it or complaining about it. However, despite hispersistence, Pedro does not remain down according to Mike: Thebull-fighter fellow was rather good. He didn t say much, but he keptgetting up and getting knocked down again. Cohn couldn t knock himout (202, Ch. 17). Eventually, Cohn gives up on this pursuit, isknocked twice by Pedro, and loses his battle for Brett. These eventsshow that Cohn s boxing skills, a defense mechanism that he once used incollege, will no longer pull him out of rough situations. Cohn fails toshow the strength and courage needed to face the circumstances like aman. Pedro Romero, on the other hand, comes closest to the embodiment ofHemingway s hero. Brett is almost immediately enchanted by thishandsome, nineteen-year-old, a promising matador. Pedro, a fearlessfigure who frequently confronts death in his occupation, is not afraidin the bullring and controls the bulls like a master. Pedro is thefirst man since Jake who causes Brett to lose her self-control: Ican 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 todo. I ve lost my self-respect (183, Ch. 16). In contrast, Pedromaintains his self-control in his first encounter with Brett: He feltthere was something between them. He must have felt it when Brett gavehim her hand. He was being very careful (185, Ch. 16). Brett falls inlove with Pedro as a hero who promises new excitement. In the scenebetween Pedro and Cohn described previously, Pedro demonstrates hisconfidence and strong will. Knocked down time and time again, Pedrorises each time refusing to be beaten. His controlled and dignifieddemeanor in an unusual situation contrast sharply with Cohn s fear andweakness. Soon Pedro and Brett run off together but when he demands too much fromher, Brett asks him to leave. He was ashamed of me for a while, youknow. He wanted me to grow my hair out. He said it would make me morewomanly. 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 andwill not accommodate Brett s character even though he loves her. In hisaffair with Brett, he has performed according to his rules and when hediscovers that his ideals are impossible for Brett to accept, he leaveswillingly. Pedro has been left untainted by Brett, sustaining hisstrong-willed, correct behavior. Moreover, Pedro leaves without sulkinglike Cohn or whining like Mike. Brett s acceptance or rejection of particular qualities in each of thefour men she becomes involved with help define Hemingway s male hero.Mike is not dependent on Brett but does not maintain his dignity andself-discipline in his drunken sloppiness. Cohn is a complaining, weak,accommodating adolescent who has little understanding of others orhimself. Pedro is the near perfect embodiment of strength, courage, andconfidence. Jake is the lesser version of this perfection as the heroof 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 hisemasculation in the deepest sense possible, because the traditional waysin which masculinity are defined are insufficient and impossible forhim. Jake needs the strength and courage to confront his impotencebecause he has not yet adjusted to this weakness. It is ironic thatCohn, a character least like the Hemingway man, has slept with Brettwhile Jake will never be able to accomplish this feat. However, becauseCohn so inadequately fulfills the roles of a true man, Hemingway impliesthat the sexual conquest of a woman does not alone satisfy thedefinition of masculinity. Nevertheless, Jake fails to fulfill other requisites of the Hemingwayman as he deviates from his own ethical standards. Jake sees that Brettis mesmerized by Pedro s skillful control and extraordinary handsomenessand recognizes the possibility of furnishing her carnal desires with themost perfect specimen of manhood that he can offer in place of himself.Jake thus betrays the aficionados of Pamplona and the trust of along-time friend, Montoya, who fear that this rising star may be ruinedby women. Thus, regardless of his physical impotence, Jake s trueweakness is the impotence of his will and the supposed hero of the novelis flawed due to his failure to adhere to what he believes is right andwrong. Hemingway thus refrains from presenting a true hero in his novel. Withthe absence of a leading male ideal, Hemingway betrays the largersocio-cultural assumptions about men and masculinity and questions theconventional means in which they are defined in his society.