Analysis of the Shift of Gender Roles in The Sun Also Rises

The Sun Also Rises is a novel by Ernest Hemingway that shows the attitudes of the “lost generation”. Hemingway writes about post War World I events how it has affected the characters and changed their view of themselves. The war has changed the characters due to the violence and traumatic events they have dealt with during that time. It has changed the character’s outlook of morality and beliefs. It left many people feeling hopeless and lost. With people feeling lost, they moved from normal ideologies of gender, sex and identity that are part of the Old Victorian ways.

The main characters of the book, Jake Barnes and Lady Brett Ashley define the roles of masculinity and femininity. Hemingway showcases the role of the characters have been switched. During this time in the 1920s, many people had a sense of experimentation and switched roles more freely. The rules of the gender norms did not apply to this generation. In my paper will talk about the shift of the gender roles in the 1920s and how Hemingway used the current times for inspiration in his novel, The Sun Also Rises.

Hemingway expresses how war can change a person and destroys more than just the lives of soldiers on the battlefield, but also effects the love lives of this generation and that love is painful. This is seen in the relationship of Jake and Lady Brett. While Jake wants to have a steady relationship with Brett, he knows that with his disability he will not be able to satisfy her in intimate ways. While, Brett likes Jake, she does not want to part of a committed relationship. She is just looking to have fun.

The end of the novel reflects this theme of love is painful, but also how the gender roles are still changed. Hemingway uses this theme to show how traditional masculinity was being challenged by the effects of war and how women were breaking away from the traditional role that men had assigned them while they were away at war. During this time the relationships of men and women were being changed drastically since women had to start doing men’s job plus theirs.

Hemingway plays with the defined ideas of what it is to be feminine and masculine through his characters of Jake and Brett. Brett breaks away from her feminine mindset and takes the qualities of men. This leads her to behave in the same manner as men with her sexuality and her behaviors. Hemingway describes Brett in a way that makes her sound masculine but also very desirable, “Brett was damned good-looking. She wore a slipover jersey sweater and a tweed skirt, and her hair was brushed back like a boy’s. She started all that. She was built with curves like the hull of a racing yacht, and you missed none of it with that wool jersey” (Hemingway 30) Hemingway portrays Brett as a masculine character that demonstrates actions of promiscuity, and constantly gets what she wants with men. She is represented as the new empowerment of women.

Lady Brett Ashley was a nurse during War World 1. During that time, she saw many traumas and violence while working in the medical field. Along with these events and the death of her husband, she began to lose herself and her identity. This began her transformation of her new lifestyle.

Hemingway uses his novel as a way to showcase the rise of feminism. “The portrayal of Brett in the novel functions to draw out the connection between Brett and this historical figure of the New Woman”.

In addition to her physical appearance, Hemingway adds other features that illustrates Brett’s representation of becoming a New Woman. Brett asserts herself to creating a “new woman” and not being held down by social norms of being a weak and an obedient woman. She involves herself into more masculine events and has a more masculine attitude towards situations. Brett follows this New Woman attitude and creates a new lifestyle and becomes a role model for other girls that are breaking away from the Old Victorian way.

The ending of the novel displays the relationship between Jake and Brett. Brett’s feelings for Jake makes her sad, because she wants to be him, but on the other hand she knows that Jake lacks the things that she needs. Brett, being a realist, she realizes that the two of them do not have a real future together.

Jake’s character is also affected by the war through his emotions and in his love life. His physical condition from the war has now left him with psychological consequences. His insecurities have left his masculinity in shambles. Hemingway shows how the male characters in this novel struggle to show an example of what being a man means and how the idea of masculinity is not found in the ideal man. Throughout this novel Hemingway shows how much control that Brett has over Jake. The thought of his impairment leads to his disappointment and that he cannot fulfil his duties of a man in sexual ways. Jake is not interested in the idea of faith and morality but is looking for a place where he can fit in since the ideas of manhood and being a soldier have come to fail and damage him both mentally and physically.

The handicap that Jake has to endure has taken away his authority and the ideas of what a man should be. As a result of this, Jake is now considered to be a “new man”. He has to know keep his sexuality suppressed much like a woman of that time. “Jake Barnes tries to define himself as a man even as a war-related genital wound denies him the basic assertion of manhood, sexual gratification”.

The ending reflects the how conflicted Jake’s recognition that he cannot be with Brett. The last scene shows how painful Jake copes with understand the confusing situation of him and Brett’s relationship. “Isn’t it pretty to think so?”. This pain and the uncertainty that the they face is how Hemingway is showing how complicated the process of social transition can be.

Ernest Hemingway shows the growth of a new generation. After War World I, many young Americans began to change their attitudes and their views on life. This generation became known as the Lost Generation. They began to move past the idea of the Old Victorian ways. The gender roles of the characters, Jake and Lady Brett Ashley, were both switched as a result to the war. With Jake suffering from a physical wound that left him handicap, his lifestyle began to change from a masculine role to a more feminine role. While Brett suffered from seeing many traumas and violence from the war, she began to suffer mentally, losing her identity.

In addition, these changes of roles effected the love life of the characters. Hemingway’s arguement of “love is painful” is shown throughout the novel. Jake and Brett have feelings for each other, but both know that they will not be able to spend their life together. Hemingway ends the novel with Brett telling Jake that “we could have had such a damned good time together”, which implies that Brett knows that their relationship could have been great, but unfortunately she knew that Jake could satisfy her sexually or provide her the masculine role that he knew that she needed.

So, in conclusion, by the aftermath of the war, both of the characters play a crucial role in the changing of the times. It shows how the sexuality of two characters struggle within themselves and also through the pressure of society of the Old Victorian ways. With the aftermath of the war both characters attempt to find themselves as the new world begins to settle around them. Jake and Brett’s true findings are not through the damage of the war but through understanding and adjusting to the world as the roles of social behavior and roles of gender evolve. This has helped them find the balance that they needed to overcome their traumatic experiences. 

16 August 2021
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