The Sun Also Rises

When thinking of the image of modernity around the time that Ernest Hemingway is writing, the issue of the fragmented individual becomes key in his writing. In Psyche Reborn: The Emergence of H.D., Susan Stanford Friedman wrote, “Art produced after the First World War recorded the emotional aspect of this crisis : despair, hopelessness, paralysis, angst, and a sense of meaninglessness, chaos, and fragmentation of material reality.” Considering this statement in relation to Hemingway’s character of Jake Barnes in The Sun Also Rises, the reader is able to see how this modernist character is fragmented. Brought together with a ragtag group of individuals in Paris after the war, Jake struggles through his life as he tries to continue with his life and deal with his group of friends on a journey through the city that eventually leads to Spain.

Examining the character of Jake Barnes leads the reader to see how the individual is fragmented. An American expatriate working at a newspaper in Paris, Jake already displays qualities of fragmentation. Jake has already begun his own fragmentation between his native country and his new home country. It is when the character of Lady Brett Ashley is introduced into the novel that the reader is more easily able to see how Jake’s character is torn. Early on Hemingway makes clear that Jake loves Brett, however, he also makes clear the tensions that arise between Jake and Brett. When riding in a taxi together through the winding streets of Paris Brett makes a comment about how she is paying for what she has put men through; it is here that Jake states, “’Don’t talk like a fool…Besides, what happened to me is supposed to be funny. I never think about it’” (34). Jake refers to a wound he received in the war, which prevents him from being able to have sex. This wound is what tears him away from Brett. While he does love her, the two let this wound drive them apart into further fragmentation.

However, as serious as this problem is, Hemingway uses this wound as almost a comic relief. (In fact, even though other characters seem to be concerned about this wound, Jake continuously has a lighter tone and even makes jokes about it.) Later that night when undressing, Jake reflects upon this wound in an amusing light. Jake thinks to himself, “Well, it was a rotten way to be wounded and flying on a joke front like the Italian….I never used to realize it, I guess. I try and play it along and just not make trouble for people. Probably I never would have had any trouble if I hadn’t run into Brett when they shipped me to England. I suppose she only wanted what she couldn’t have” (38-39). While reflecting on his injury that is so serious it separates him from the woman he loves, Jake tries to take the situation lightly and even speaks to the fact that he almost considers it a joke. He even elaborates on how he sees his injury as the driving stake between himself and Brett. It is also here that Jake points out one of the aggravating qualities of Brett – she only wants what she cannot have – and it is here that the reader begins to understand that the complications of the character of Brett are also what lead Jake to be a fragmented individual.

Brett also presents trouble for Jake because he has a hard time defining how he really feels for her. When talking to his friend Bill, Jake explains how he did in fact used to love Brett. When Bill asks him how long he loved Brett for, Jake responds, “’Off and on for a hell of a long time’” and then goes on to say “’I don’t give a damn anymore’” (128). While Jake claims that he doesn’t love Brett, he still responds to her in the manner of love. When she sends him a telegraph at the end of the novel, he responds to it as soon as he receives it and ends his response with “LOVE JAKE” (243).  It becomes clear to the reader that Jake has mixed feelings for Brett and with her eccentricity, she drives him into feeling torn with these emotions, thus showing the reality of himself as an individual.

In addition to Jake’s wound and emotions that drive him away from Brett, her character also makes it hard for Jake to relate to her. The character of Brett is feminine, but she has many qualities that redefine how women were viewed during this era. Her character acts in ways that are generally considered typical of men. For example, when Mike, Brett’s fiancé is talking about her, he exclaims, “’Brett’s had affairs with men before. She tells me all about everything’” (147). Her fiancé acknowledges that she has a reputation with men. It is not typical that women of this time were associated with being lively outside of the home and having many affairs. Even at the beginning of the novel, Brett is recognized as not being like other woman; she breaks the stereotype. When Jake first encounters her, she is described as having masculine qualities mixed in with her femininity: “Brett was damned good looking. She wore a slipover jersey sweater and a tweed jacket, and her hair was brushed back like a boy’s….She was built with curves like the hull of a racing yacht…” (30). Because the character of Brett is set up to not conform with the typical ideas of women at this time, she works to disorient the senses of Jake. He is in love with her, but the problems with his wound and with how he is able to evaluate and understand her and her actions, prevent the two from being able to be together. This shows how both characters struggle to maintain static images as individuals.

Throughout The Sun Also Rises, the reader gets a sense for how the modern individual is more fragmented. While Jake is the central character of the novel, between both himself and Brett, the reader is able to see the division in themselves. Jake struggles with his feelings for Brett – and she does the same with him, along with at least a handful of other men – and he also attempts to come to terms with himself. He refers to his wound – which as his companion Bill says, left him impotent – in a comical manner, but this is a driving factor that keeps him from his love. Because both Jake and Brett know they can’t be together, Hemingway gives the sense that the two are never complete because of their forced separation. Brett can be seen as fragmented through her many affairs and other actions that lead her to become the modern female, breaking preconceptions of women’s attitudes. Jake represents the fragmented individual that Susan Stanford Friedman describes well; he is a man who comes back from the war, abandons his native country, takes up life in Paris, finds a group of expatriates to hang around with, and struggles with his emotions and desires as he tries to piece his life together. In this way, Hemingway shows the transformations the individual goes through in the early 20th century through the characters in The Sun Also Rises.

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