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expatriates especially Jake, Robert, and Mike are severely damaged by war after World
War I, and are relentlessly fighting for one woman's affection. They were damaged
physically, emotionally, and spiritually. These men are, for the most part and unlike
Romero, incredibly dysfunctional, unsure of where they are going and what
their lives will bring. The three primary men demonstrating such dysfunctional
qualities are Jake, Robert, and Mike. A commonality among these men is all
are involved, at one point or another, with Brett, a woman who shares their charact-
eristics and is ultimately as dysfunctional as the men. These men are all drawn to
her and need Brett, but they find no hope or comfort in their relationship with her
because she is just as lost as they are.
Brett continues to be a destructive force, and it most definitely
should be noted that other relationships in which she engaged did
not prove destructive to the men. Two so called pawns Bill and the Count
were not damaged primarily because they possessed confidence in themselves and
in their lives. They were not obsessed with Brett and did not think that she
could be the answer to their problems. Brett had little affect upon these
men who were in control of their lives and emotionally healthy. However, she did
have control over Jake, Robert, and Mike because they were lost, part of that lost
generation that Hemingway often wrote about. And Brett, being as lost as the
men, truly fell into the destructive relationships, thrived on them, and even
unconsciously looked for them.
Brett is clearly one of those type of women who seems to seek out men who
need her. She thrives on that need and then quickly dismisses them for one reason or
another. She feels wanted and needed by these men, but never finds happiness
with them because of the fact that they need her. However, this is what fuels
her, making her feel loved and useful. She is perhaps incapable of finding a
real relationship. And, even when we imagine that she could have had such a
relationship with Jake, we realize that she only appeared truly smitten with him
because he could not meet her needs sexually. It is the old story of believing
she may have wanted something because she couldn't have it.
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Jake is clearly disabled and unable to "perform" sexually with Brett.
However, the need for love has not diminished by any means, in fact it has increased.
Through Jake's experiences in the war he is, as we have noted, clearly looking
for some value, some meaning, in his life. Despite his inability to perform, he
seeks meaning and value through some sort of sexual relationship with Brett.
Even though sex is not present in their relationship, the dream of such a
reality, the sexual hope and need, is still powerfully present. This clearly
presents us with a picture of a man who feels he is unworthy, and who society
feels is unworthy, because he is not sexually active, something that truly
defines a man.
Sex is the foundation of this relationship because it is nonexistent and
thus becomes the desired object that helps to define the lack of a relationship.
Each one relies on sex to define themselves and his or her relationship. And, Brett
as perhaps a typical female to Hemingway is solely reliant on her sexuality. If it
cannot be confirmed and used to get what she wants, then a woman has no
identity. This is subtly presented in the following lines between Brett and Jake
when Jake tries to kiss her: "'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"' (Hemingway 26). She can say these
things only because she knows she will never really love him or possess him
sexually. If she could possess him sexually she would have no need for him. Brett
tells Jake she cannot commit to him, as she will "tromper" him (ClassicNotes).
With Robert we have a man who is obsessed with Brett. She had an affair
with him and she thinks nothing of it, being the modern woman she is. But Robert is
obsessed and follows her around hoping for a tidbit of love. Brett is the kind
of woman who thrives on this and needs this to feel worthwhile. Robert is simply
a man who feels that a woman can be the answer to all his problems. He possesses
no identity without her and follows her constantly, doing nothing but desiring
her. He is also a Jew, which he takes as a reason to be insecure. Not only is he
the only Jew among them, but he is also the only non-veteran. Jake and his
friends seize on these differences and take out their own personal insecurities
on Cohn (SparkNotes).
Brett's stable fiancé is Mike, although she is constantly having affairs with
other men while engaged to him. And, Mike is perfectly aware of this reality. One
critic notes that Brett was struggling to come to terms with what type of person
she was, as well as Mike (AllFreeEssays.com). She knew that, from a
materialistic perspective and a realistic perspective, if she wanted to live
well enough financially, and find someone before she aged, she must resign
herself to marrying and Mike was the best prospect because he obviously knew who
she was (Schwartz 49).
Even from this brief examination, we can see that Brett is a woman who is just
as lost as the men of this particular generation. She wants glamour, sex,
excitement, and is perhaps a woman who does not wish to know herself. She runs
from who she is, or whom she may or may not be. In running like rubbish she gets involved
with numerous men, using them and tossing them aside. She is not really serious
about anyone, yet the men who are lost hope that she is stern about them, or
that she could be somber about them. They cling to her as an angel of hope that
could promise great things. And, the fact that she is just like them, only a
woman, makes them think that she can be crazed. A woman of confidence and
security would not even associate in such a way with these lost men (Spilka 17).
But, they are all lost and confused and insecure about themselves and life and
thus cling to each other in very co-dependent and dysfunctional ways.