The Sun Also Rises: Hemingway\'s Depiction Of The Traditional 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