The Sun Also Rises: The Hemingway hero Term Paper

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The Sun Also Rises: Hemingway's depiction of the traditional hero

The Hemingway Hero

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.

Despite Brett's undeniable love for Jake, she is engaged to marry

another. Mike Campbell is Brett's fiancee, her next planned marriage

after two already failed ones. Mike is ridiculously in love with Brett

and 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 simply

needs an anchor. Mike loves Brett but is not dependent on her

affection. Moreover, he knows about and accepts Brett's brief affairs

with other men: "'Mark you. Brett's had affairs with men before. She

tells me all about everything'" (143, Ch. 13). Mike appreciates Brett's

beauty, as do all the other males in the novel, but perhaps this is as

deep as his love for her goes. In his first scene in the novel, Mike

cannot stop commenting and eliciting comments on Brett's beauty: "'I say

Brett, you are a lovely piece. Don't you think she's beautiful?'" (79,

Ch. 8). He repeatedly proposes similar questions but does not make any

observant or profound comments on his wife-to-be. In fact, throughout

the entirety of the novel, Mike continues this pattern, once referring

to Brett as "just a lovely, healthy wench" as his most observant

remark. Furthermore, Mike exhibits no self-control when he becomes

drunk, making insensitive statements that show his lack of regard for

Brett and others. After Brett shows interest in Pedro Romero, the

bullfighter, Mike rudely yells: "Tell him bulls have no balls! Tell him

Brett wants to see him put on those green pants. Tell him Brett is

dying to know how he can get into those pants!" (176, Ch. 16). In

addition, Mike cannot contemplate the complexities of Brett and her

relationships: "'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 with

the bullfighter, she will eventually return to Mike who will no doubt

openly welcome her again. Brett is a strong woman, who can control most

men, and Mike is no exception. She vaguely simplifies their

relationship 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 go

on and decide to accept his simplicity anyways. Furthermore, despite his

engagement with Brett, Mike betrays Hemingway's ideal man. Although he

is self-reliant, Mike possesses little self-control or dignity.

Engaged to one man and in love with another, Brett demonstrates her

disregard for the 1920's double standards. Very early in the beginning

of the novel, she reveals to Jake that she had invited Robert Cohn to go

with her on a trip to San Sebastian. Cohn, a Jewish, middle-aged writer

disillusioned with his life in Paris, wants to escape to South America

where he envisions meeting the ebony princesses he romanticized from a

book. However, he cannot persuade Jake to accompany him and then

completely 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 to

be absolutely fine and straight'" (38, Ch. 5). Cohn is immature in his

idealization of Brett's beauty, as he falls in "love at first sight".

Furthermore, like an adolescent, he attempts to satisfy his curiosity

about Brett by asking Jake numerous questions about her.

After Cohn and Brett's short-lived affair in San Sebastian, Cohn is

nervous around Jake: "Cohn had been rather nervous ever since we had met

at Bayone. He did not know whether we knew Brett had been with him at

San Sebastian, and it made him rather awkward" (94, Ch. 10). Moreover,

Cohn is scared that when Brett appears she will embarrass him and so he

does not have the maturity to behave appropriately in front of Jake and

his friend, Bill Gorton. Nonetheless, Cohn is proud of his affair with

Brett and believes that this conquest makes him a hero. When Brett

appears with her fiancee Mike, Cohn still believes that they are

destined for an ideal love despite her blatant coldness to him.

However, it is apparent that Brett simply used Cohn to satisfy her

sexual cravings: "'He behaved rather well'" (83, Ch. 9). Cohn does not

understand the triviality of their trip to San Sebastian in Brett's mind

and has become dependent on her attention and affection. In his rampant

drunkenness, Mike blasts Cohn: "'What if Brett did sleep with you?

She's slept with lots of better people than you. Tell me Robert,. Why

do you follow Brett around like a poor bloody steer? Don't you know

you're not wanted?'" (143, Ch. 13). Cohn is like an adolescent, as he

vainly ignores the truth and continues to love Brett: "He could not stop

looking at Brett. It seemed to make him happy. It must have been

pleasant for him to see her looking so lovely, and know he had been away

with her and that every one knew it. They couldn't take that away from

him" (146, Ch. 13). Cohn over-exaggerates the significance of his

affair with Brett. He does not understand that Brett simply used him

and that their brief relationship has no meaning to her. Moreover, Cohn

cannot conduct himself with dignity and he intrudes upon people and

places where he is obviously not wanted.

Naively, Cohn dwells on the fact that he has slept with Brett and

obsesses with her. When Brett begins to show signs of interest in Pedro

Romero, Cohn irrationally approaches Jake demanding to know Brett's

whereabouts, punches him in the jaw, and then calls him a pimp (190-91,

Ch. 17). Later that night he encounters Pedro and Brett together in

their hotel room. His actions of knocking Pedro down repeatedly until

he eventually tires demonstrate a divergence from his character. Cohn

for the first time takes some action in what he feels, rather than

merely thinking about it or complaining about it. However, despite his

persistence, Pedro does not remain down according to Mike: "'The

bull-fighter fellow was rather good. He didn't say much, but he kept

getting up and getting knocked down again. Cohn couldn't knock him

out'" (202, Ch. 17). Eventually, Cohn gives up on this pursuit, is

knocked twice by Pedro, and loses his battle for Brett. These events

show that Cohn's boxing skills, a defense mechanism that he once used in

college, will no longer pull him out of rough situations. Cohn fails to

show the strength and courage needed to face the circumstances like a


Pedro Romero, on the other hand, comes closest to the embodiment of

Hemingway's hero. Brett is almost immediately enchanted by this

handsome, nineteen-year-old, a promising matador. Pedro, a fearless

figure who frequently confronts death in his occupation, is not afraid

in the bullring and controls the bulls like a master. Pedro is the

first man since Jake who causes Brett to lose her self-control: "'I

can'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 to

do. I've lost my self-respect" (183, Ch. 16). In contrast, Pedro

maintains his self-control in his first encounter with Brett: "He felt

there was something between them. He must have felt it when Brett gave

him her hand. He was being very careful" (185, Ch. 16). Brett falls in

love with Pedro as a hero who promises new excitement. In the scene

between Pedro and Cohn described previously, Pedro demonstrates his

confidence and strong will. Knocked down time and time again, Pedro

rises each time refusing to be beaten. His controlled and dignified

demeanor in an unusual situation contrast sharply with Cohn's fear and


Soon Pedro and Brett run off together but when he demands too much from

her, Brett asks him to leave. "'He was ashamed of me for a while, you

know. He wanted me to grow my hair out. He said it would make me more

womanly." 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 and

will not accommodate Brett's character even though he loves her. In his

affair with Brett, he has performed according to his rules and when he

discovers that his ideals are impossible for Brett to accept, he leaves

willingly. Pedro has been left untainted by Brett, sustaining his

strong-willed, correct behavior. Moreover, Pedro leaves without sulking

like Cohn or whining like Mike.

Brett's acceptance or rejection of particular qualities in each of the

four men she becomes involved with help define Hemingway's male hero.

Mike is not dependent on Brett but does not maintain his dignity and

self-discipline in his drunken sloppiness. Cohn is a complaining, weak,

accommodating adolescent who has little understanding of others or

himself. Pedro is the near perfect embodiment of strength, courage, and

confidence. Jake is the lesser version of this perfection as the hero

of 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 his

emasculation in the deepest sense possible, because the traditional ways

in which masculinity are defined are insufficient and impossible for

him. Jake needs the strength and courage to confront his impotence

because he has not yet adjusted to this weakness. It is ironic that

Cohn, a character least like the Hemingway man, has slept with Brett

while Jake will never be able to accomplish this feat. However, because

Cohn so inadequately fulfills the roles of a true man, Hemingway implies

that the sexual conquest of a woman does not alone satisfy the

definition of masculinity.

Nevertheless, Jake fails to fulfill other requisites of the Hemingway

man as he deviates from his own ethical standards. Jake sees that Brett

is mesmerized by Pedro's skillful control and extraordinary handsomeness

and recognizes the possibility of furnishing her carnal desires with the

most perfect specimen of manhood that he can offer in place of himself.

Jake thus betrays the aficionados of Pamplona and the trust of a

long-time friend, Montoya, who fear that this rising star may be ruined

by women. Thus, regardless of his physical impotence, Jake's true

weakness is the impotence of his will and the supposed hero of the novel

is flawed due to his failure to adhere to what he believes is right and


Hemingway thus refrains from presenting a true hero in his novel. With

the absence of a leading male ideal, Hemingway betrays the larger

socio-cultural assumptions about men and masculinity and questions the

conventional means in which they are defined in his society.

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