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
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 loves.

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.

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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
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
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
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
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 wrong.

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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