There is a common perception among casual readers--who hasn't heard it voiced?--that Ernest Hemingway did not respect women. The purpose of this essay is to examine one work in such a way as to challenge these heinous assumptions. Hemingway's persona will be left alone. What will be examined is the role of women, as evidenced by Brett Ashley in The Sun Also Rises, and what, if anything, it reveals in the way of settling this account of Hemingway as misogynist.
Brett Ashley enjoys a unique position of power in the novel--in today's vernacular, she "wears the pants" in all her relationships. The feminist perspective, no doubt, will find this true, but rapidly move to the conclusion that Brett Ashley's power over men is Hemingway's means of showing what a bitch she is. I'd like to suggest another possibility. Despite Brett's many faults, she is worth loving, and Jake Barnes does just that. Again, the feminist may say, yes he loves her, but as an idol, a doll, a figure admired from afar, as if eternally suspended on a pedestal. I consent that Jake is guilty of this habit, yet; he is always there for her, no matter the pain it inflicts on his self-worth.
At the end of the book, when Jake thinks the coast is clear, and he's gathering himself at San Sabastian after much revelry in Pamplona, Brett sends a telegram:
COULD YOU COME TO HOTEL MONTANA MADRID
AM RATHER IN TROUBLE BRETT. (238)
Brett has ditched her intended husband Michael, her lover Robert Cohn, and her number one supporter Jake Barnes, in order to do what? To satisfy herself with a nineteen year old hero of the bull ring. To assuage her fears of aging. For wasn't it pleasant dear, to be ...
... middle of paper ...
...it, and respond accordingly.
Hemingway's gift of these characters says to the reader, "Embrace life." That message comes from one who loves people, even when they insist on games and head-trips and violence. Jake is a hero because he grabs the bull by the horns (I know, I know). He could be a pitiful mess of a man, but he is not. He is chivalrous, smart, and well-adjusted. He hurts, and has second thoughts, but he is quick to joke about it. The characters in the novel that show signs of male chauvinism are whipped about by events, and are in no way intended to be admired. Hemingway was no sexist. On the contrary, his work championed the woman's cause, and in Brett Ashley he has given readers a heroine, hell-bent on liberation.
Hemingway, Ernest. The Sun Also Rises. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1926. Reissued by Collier Books, 1986.
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