The Sun Also Rises 5 Essay, Research Paper
Brett Ashley: Whore or Herione
After a thorough reading and in-depth analyzation of Ernest Hemingway s riveting novel The Sun Also Rises, the character of Brett Ashley may be seen in a number of different ways. While some critics such as Mimi Reisel Gladstein view Brett as a Circe or bitch-goddess, others such as Carol H. Smith see Brett as a woman who has been emotionally broken by the world around her. I tend to agree with the latter of these views, simply because of the many tragedies that befell Brett. She is a heroine who, despite being wounded by love and war, continues to pursue true love.
Mimi Reisel Gladstein does make an excellent case for Brett as a modern-day Circe or bitch-goddess. Brett is a . . . drunkard, a nymphomaniac, or a Circe who turns men into swine. . . (58). She has this transforming effect on several men throughout the course of the novel. Because of her extreme physical beauty, men such as Robert Cohn and Mike Campbell place Brett on a pedestal where she can do no wrong. Robert offers himself to Brett, then follows her around as if on a leash, sniveling and squealing as if he were swine (58). While Brett saunters around on her sexual escapades, she does not take into account the feelings of Jake, the man who truly loves her, because he is unable to meet her sexual needs. Brett does bother with Jake s frustrations; she uses him only as an emotional support to fall back on when the flings leave her emotionally unsatisfied. Brett s bitchery is fully revealed by her treatment of Jake. . . he truly loves her but she uses Jake to get the emotional fix she cannot find is sexual union . . . this is ironic since she would most likely find both if Jake were fully functional (59). By looking at her treatment of Robert Cohn, Mike Campbell, and Jake Barnes, Brett could easy be seen as a self-centered, promiscuous nymphomaniac whose quest for love destroys men but leaves her relatively unharmed.
As Carol Smith points out, however, . . . analyzing Brett in terms of bitch-goddess or Terrible Mother does not do justice to her (55). Smith s quotation is well-founded. Hemingway has done much more with the character of Brett than it may seem. She is a good woman the world has broken . . . a complex woman who has endured much (55). These views are solidly-based as well. The two marriages that Brett entered into were loveless; the first with a man who died of dysentery during the war, and the second with a British Naval officer who returned from war suffering from a rather intense case of shock. Her love life is described by Theodore Bardacke as a . . . casualty of war in itself, has decayed into alcoholism and a series of causal sex relations (12). These events have not only marred Brett, but they have also desexed her. Brett s . . . clothes, her mannish felt hat and bobbed hair, all are indications of her loss of true sexuality (13). Her traumatic experiences with love and war, . . . drive her from her bar to bar, from man to man, city to city. None of it is any good: her polygamy, with or without benefit of justices of the peace, leads only to more of the same. . . Brett is not good for the men she knows (Smith 54). Perhaps the most frustrating relationship for Brett is the one involving Jake. Both of these characters, . . . struggle with their desire to be with each and [more importantly] the realization that they can never be lovers (55). Brett expresses her feeling of torment best when she states, Don t touch me….I can t stand it….I simply turn all to jelly when you touch me (Hemingway, 33-34). All these circumstances have profoundly affected Brett; all of these occurrences as well as the changes that they caused, were out of Brett s control and can be used as evidence for the argument that Brett is a woman who has been, . .. emotionally stunted by a shallow world without spiritual meaning, and has become a woman devoid of womanhood (Bardacke 12).
Having done such intense research on the topic of Brett Ashley, I find that both arguments are very compelling. I believe, however, that there is another view of Brett Ashley that can be supported. She is both a bitch-goddess and a wounded-heroine. The bitch goddess stereotype is supported by treating men like toys to be disposed of when she grows tired of them. Robert Cohn is an excellent example. She uses him to get away when the two of them take a weekend in San Sebastian, only to later reject his later attempts to give their relationship any sort of special meaning. Robert is so devoted to her and his worships her so intensely that his pride is destroyed. As Mimi Gladstein points out, The final memento he has to carry away from his encounter with Brett is a sock in the face from Pedro Romero (Gladstein 58). Mike Campbell, as well, is another man who is reduced in his association with Brett. To be truthful, not much can be said for Mike to begin with, but after his relationship with Brett he is left alone and penniless. Then there is Jake Barnes, who, despite loving Brett truly, is only used as an emotional crutch for Brett to back-upon. Yet, for all her faults, I still do not see Brett as a bitch-goddess. She has certain positive mothering qualities that are also evident. She and Jake met in a hospital while she was a nurse during the war. Mike Campbell even mentions her mothering qualities, She loves looking after people. That s how we came to go off together. She was looking after me (Hemingway, 206). Brett also takes care of Romero after his fistfight with Robert, and she tries to maintain peace among the group with at the fiesta. It would be a draw between the title of queen-slut bitch and broken heroine if it were not for Brett s dealings with Romero. Brett did actually love Romero , but she choses to leave him because she knows that she is not good for him. The age difference between Romero is stressed when Brett states, I m thirty-four, you know, I m not going to be one of these bitches that ruins children (247). This statement is key because, for the first time in a long time, Brett is putting another person s welfare before her own. This action preserves the only thing left to Brett, her self respect. This sacrificial act has make her heroic and she returns to Mike and his shallow, alcoholic world because that is her world as well.
While some critics perceive Hemingways character Brett Ashley as a witch or Circe, others see her as a heroine crushed by fate, love, and war. While there is evidence that supports both claims, I believe Brett is a mixture of both that, in the end, becomes more heroic by sacrificing to protect another person s welfare and returning to the world that is her own.
Bardacke, Theodore. Hemingway s Women: 1950, Ernest Hemingway: The Man and His Work. Ed. John K. McCaffery (Cleveland: World Publishing, 1950), pp. 342-44. Rpt. in Brett Ashley. Ed. Harold Bloom. New York: G.K. Hall and Co., 1995. pp.12-13.
Gladstein, Mimi Reisel, Hemingway, The Indestructible Woman in Faulkner, Hemingway, and Steinbeck. (Ann Arbor, UMI Research Press, 1986), pp. 59, 62. Rpt. in Critical Essays on Earnest Hemingways The Sun Also Rises, ed. James Nagel. New York: G.K. Hall and Co., pp.58, 59.
Hemingway, Ernest. The Sun Also Rises. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1926.
Smith, Carol H., Women and the Loss of Eden, Ernest Hemingway: The Writer in Context, Ed. James Nagel (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1984), pp132-4. Rpt. in Critical Essays on Earnest Hemingways The Sun Also Rises, ed. James Nagel. New York: G.K. Hall and Co., 1995. 54-